Manufacturer to assemble only one example of unmanned combat air vehicle, with advanced designs set aside
Alenia Aeronautica has begun assembly of a single flying version of its revised Sky-X unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) design but acknowledges some technical difficulties have emerged.
Alenia is also continuing talks with Dassault Aviation on formal industrial involvement in the Neuron UCAV demonstrator programme with a formal proposal on technology and workshare arrangements now in preparation.
Vittoria Nurzia, deputy chief engineer unmanned systems at Alenia, says: "We are trying to get an agreement with Dassault about the contents of our possible participation."
The revised Sky-X demonstrator will be completed early in 2005. An initial flight-test campaign is planned in Sardinia during the first half of next year, with the air vehicle to be flown remotely.
Alenia plans to freeze air vehicle development once flying begins, giving priority then to developing the broader operational architecture needed for effective command and control of a UCAV system.
Alenia has previously flagged plans to evolve the airframe into a fully low-observable flying wing design similar to the Boeing X-45A.
Nurzia says the basic Sky-X fuselage design is derived from a modified weapons dispenser pod. "This relation has caused some constraints, especially on the size because we wanted to use existing hardware as far as possible and contain costs."
The metal frame and fibreglass skin fuselage are currently being fitted out ahead of delivery of the wing in mid-November. Marriage of the wing and fuselage is planned for early December.
But Nurzia concedes: "The very thin fuselage shell where the wing is attached to the fuselage is pretty troublesome."
The demonstrator will have limited range because of the high rate of fuel consumption by the Microturbo TRI 60-5/268 engine and limited space for fuel storage given requirements for a large payload bay. However, the air vehicle will still be capable of flying at altitudes of 33,000ft (10,000m), speeds of Mach 0.95 and survive higher than 5g turns, says Nurzia.
Potential future payloads include new synthetic aperture radar and hyperspectral imaging sensors being developed by Alenia Finmeccanica. Design work is about to start on a weapons-carriage system for the bay that would allow internal carriage of two 225kg (500lb) JDAM-class weapons.
PETER LA FRANCHI / LONDON
Source: Flight International