Experimental technology could be applied to FB-22 bomber variant

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Lockheed Martin's FB-22 bomber variant would benefit from several Skunk Works projects once assigned to the F/A-22 programme, such as low-observable conformal fuel tanks and direct control of a new class of stealthy "minion" unmanned air vehicles.

Several FB-22 designs are expected to be among more than 100 responses due later this month to a call for information by the US Air Force for an "interim bomber" capability that could be introduced by 2015 (Flight International, 11-17 May). In February, the FB-22 was named as a desirable option, but Lockheed Martin executives are expecting competing designs to include stealthy UAVs and perhaps an arsenal ship aircraft.

Skunk Works is developing minion UAVs as a next-generation technology for the F/A-22, but the stealthy vehicles may be easier to operate using a two-seat configuration of the FB-22. This would control the UAVs from a distance, which the company hopes offers a competitive advantage over solely UAV-based bomber concepts, such as Boeing's X-45C. Developing minions, which would be launched by Boeing B-52 bombers, offers "significantly lower costs" than a standalone UAV system, and "you get [UAV] capability without nearly the expense," says a Lockheed Martin executive.

Although Lockheed Martin is developing a range of concepts, including heavy bomber variants, the company is touting a baseline weapons payload of about 30 Small Diameter Bombs - about four times greater than the F/A-22. Such an aircraft would be capable of striking about 95% of the air force's target set, says Lockheed Martin. It is also studying a concept for a tailless configuration that relies on a larger wing surface for lift and stability.

The FB-22 may also have a configuration that can be produced using the current F/A-22 assembly line in Marietta, Georgia. "One alternative is to keep the [existing F/A-22] teammembers with the same type of workshare," says Rob Weiss, deputy vice president of F/A-22 customer requirements for Lockheed Martin.

STEPHEN TRIMBLE / MARIETTA & TYNDALL AFB