AAI has built a new unmanned aerial vehicle, a substantial upgrade of the standard RQ-7 Shadow. The new aircraft, reportedly in the blended-wing configuration, is designed with two payload bays.

Two internally-funded prototypes have been built, but neither has yet flown. First flight is expected in the summer of 2011, according to Steven Reid, senior vice president of AAI. The next-generation Shadow is designed to operate using the same launcher and ground control station as the current Shadow, but will carry a substantially higher payload.

Planned payloads include two types of synthetic aperture radar (SAR), signals intelligence and possible electronic warfare packages; all but the SAR payloads will be retrofittable to existing Shadows.

A new heavy fuel engine was custom-designed by Lycoming for the aircraft. AAI and Lycoming are both owned by parent company Textron.

Though the aircraft have not yet flown, AAI is "working on a revised follow-on configuration," said Reid.

AAI would not describe briefings delivered to potential customers beyond noting interest from the US Army, which currently operates the standard-configuration RQ-7.

Source: Flight International