Sea Avenger wing passes wind tunnel test

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The Sea Avenger, a carrier-based, jet-powered, unmanned aircraft, has completed key wind tunnel testing, says manufacturer General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.

Conducted using a model, the process validated the low-speed characteristics of a new wing designed for higher endurance, lower approach speeds and increased aircraft dash speeds, the company says.

Sea Avenger is General Atomics’ offering to meet the US Navy’s requirement for an unmanned carrier-launched airborne surveillance and strike (UCLASS) system. The first land-based Avenger has been flying since April 2009, and has demonstrated the ability to go from hangar to launch in 45min or less, the company says.

Weapons systems integration work is also complete, and the firm plans to test-drop GBU-16 bombs in March using its first demonstrator aircraft. A second aircraft, “Tail 2”, is expected to be complete by the summer.

 
 © General Atomics Aeronautical Systems

The 90h, eight-day wind tunnel test was conducted at the San Diego Air and Space Technology Center, validating the low-speed characteristics of the wing in the approach, launch, and cruise configurations. The proprietary wing design must balance the requirements for high-speed flight in cruise and low-speed handling qualities for carrier landings, the company says.

Designed for fully autonomous launch and recovery from both Nimitz- and Ford-class carriers, Sea Avenger would provide long-endurance, multi-mission intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities for navy missions. The service has listed an 11-14h endurance requirement for UCLASS.

The Sea Avenger shares features already flying on 440 turboprop-powered Predator- and Reaper-series aircraft, including servos, flight control systems and surveillance and strike payloads.

But the type also would include several modifications, including folding wing-tips, stronger landing gear and marinised electronics, the company says. The biggest difference, however, is the propulsion system. General Atomics has adapted the 21.3kN (4,800lb) Pratt & Whitney PW545B turbofan from Cessna business jets for the navy’s high-altitude surveillance and strike mission.