A large number of communications technologies co-exist today in both civilian and military space with their relative strengths and weaknesses. The information carrying capacity of optical fiber communication, however, surpasses any other communications technology in use today. Additionally, optical fiber is immune to environmental effects and detection, and can be designed to be resistant to exploitation and jamming. However, fiber-optic communication applications are usually limited to static, pre-deployed cable systems. Enabling the fiber applications in dynamically deployed and ad-hoc conditions will open up a large number of communication possibilities in terrestrial, aerial, and oceanic environments. Of particular relevance are bandwidth intensive data, video and voice applications such as airborne imagery, multispectral and hyperspectral imaging, surveillance and communications disaster recovery through surveillance platforms like Airships (also called balloons, aerostats or blimps) and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).
Two major considerations in the implementation of airborne fiber communications are (a) mechanical sustainability of optical fibers, and (b) variation in optical transmission characteristics of fiber in dynamic deployment condition. This paper focuses on the mechanical aspects of airborne optical fiber and examines the ability of un-cabled optical fiber to sustain its own weight and wind drag in airborne communications applications. Since optical fiber is made of silica glass, the material fracture characteristics, sub-critical crack growth, strength distribution and proof stress are the key parameters that determine the self-sustainability of optical fiber. Results are presented in terms of maximum self-sustainable altitudes for three types of optical fibers, namely silica-clad, Titania-doped Silica-clad, and carbon-coated hermetic fibers, for short and long service periods and a range of wind profiles and fiber dimensions.