Skunkworks unveils fast-track unmanned air vehicle job for special forces

London
Source: Flightglobal.com
This story is sourced from Flightglobal.com

Lockheed Martin Advanced Development Programmes has unveiled a new hand-launched short-range unmanned air vehicle that the company says is in limited series manufacture for a classified US customer.

Designated "Stalker", the 3m (10ft)-span air vehicle made its debut flight in mid-2006 after a fast track research and development effort that started at the beginning of that same year.

Lockheed Advanced Development Programmes - better known as Skunkworks - says the new type passed through three iterations of design, test and fly before the current configuration was finalised.

The type made its debut public appearance at August's Unmanned Systems North America exhibition in Washington. The design team was the same as was previously involved in the design and development of Lockheed's Desert Hawk close-range UAV type.

The all-composite design was developed in response to special operations requirements in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is capable of operations at altitude of up to 15,000ft above sea level. It has a maximum take-off weight of 6kg (14lb) and an endurance of up to 2h.

The air vehicle uses a developmental low-noise electric propulsion system that company officials refer to as a "hush drive".

It also has a unique sensor turret system that uses a common gimbal to provide azimuth and vertical tracking, but with "plug and play" sensor modules that can readily be swapped out depending on mission requirements.

Each sensor module is the size of a clenched adult male fist and is adapted to house either a standard daylight camera, low light camera, infrared camera or a combination that includes a laser designator.

The modules are also feature firmware that automatically loads an optimised flight-handling profile into the UAV autopilot to ensure the sensor remains within its most effective load and range parameters during a mission.

The gimbal head and sensor modules use sliding lock connectors with facing electrical contacts to allow for transmission of data to the air vehicle datalink, as well as power and navigation data to the sensor.

The full payload system is retracted into the fuselage for landing. However, it can also be quickly removed to allow that space to be fitted with droppable payloads for rapid air resupply or delivery missions.