Honeywell has received the first production contract for the US Navy version of the RQ-16 micro air vehicle (MAV), now named the Tarantula Hawk, or “T-Hawk”.
After starting development with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in 2003, a Block 1 version of the ducted-fan aircraft has been tested in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2007 by the Joint Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) task force, with funding provided by the US Navy.
A new Block 2 design, featuring a gimbaled sensor and an electronic control unit for the propulsion system, will start delivery in the second quarter of 2009. In all, the USN has ordered 90 T-Hawk systems, 180 vehicles, plus ground stations and support under a new $65 million contract.
Honeywell expects the first production deal for the T-Hawk to be swiftly followed by others, including from both US and foreign militaries, says Vaughn Fulton, Honeywell’s senior UAS programme manager.
“There is probably two additional [near-term] opportunities,” Fulton says. “I’m not really at liberty to say” who are potential customers.
While adding the ECU is intended to ease the strain of relying on ducted-fan propulsion, the gimbaled sensor is the most critical upgrade for the Block II T-Hawk.
Fulton notes that a gimbaled sensor on a fixed-wing aircraft is restricted to functioning within that aircraft’s flight envelope, but those limitations are dramatically reduced with a ducted-fan aircraft.
“As the gimbal reaches one of its natural limitations,” Fulton says, “the ducted fan vehicle can move independently of the gimbal to give the gimbal more throw.”
The RQ-16 is also selected for the Army’s first “spin-out” of the Future Combat Systems programme.
Meanwhile, the Miami-Dade County police department are evaluating Honeywell’s vehicle to provide guidance for the US Federal Aviation Administration’s evolving civil certification process for unmanned aircraft.