5 minutes with the Skunk Works’ Frank Mauro

It’s conference season again, and last week it was the Air Force Association’s winter symposium in Orlando – where I grabbed 5min with Frank Mauro, vp advanced systems development at Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works. Here’s some of what he said.

Polecat (video) – LM has decided against building a replacement for the P-175 Polecat flying-wing UAV that crashed in December 2006. Polecat was mainly about low-cost composites, Mauro says, and that work is continuing under the US Air Force Research Laboratory’s Advanced Composite Cargo Aircraft programme – Skunk Works with fly the highly modified Dorier 328Jet late this year.

VARIOUS (video) – Mauro says a lesson learned from the private-venture Polecat was a need to get governent partners on board to share the cost and risk, so the Skunks are working to get backers for the VARIOUS VTOL UCAV demonstrator. This is mainly an engine integration challenge, he says. The VARIOUS has three small Teledyne gas turbines, one for cruise and two driving fans embedded in the wing.

Hybrid airship (video) – The Skunk Works is preparing to fly its P-791 hybrid airship demonstrator again, and Mauro says Lockheed is looking for a partner to commercialise the aircraft, having decided against entering the commercial market itself. An unmanned version is being proposed to Raytheon for the JLENS cruise-missile defence system, as an alternative to tethered aerostats.

RATTLRS (video) – The Mach 3-plus missile demonstrator could still fly this year, but more funding will be required, Mauro says, after Rolls-Royce suffered foil bearing failures in the YJ102R high-Mach turbine engine. An Office of Naval Research programme, RATTLRS is designed to cruise above Mach 3 for 5min.

Morphing UAV (video) – Lockheed’s DARPA funding ran out before the Skunk Works could fly its folding-wing morphing wing UAV. Mauro says the problem was the lack of a 150lb-thrust engine. All the engines delivered said 150lb on the box, he says, but only produced about 75lb – not enough to get the UAV off the ground.

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