The following unmanned air vehicles are programmes and products Flight International has identified as ones to watch over the next 12 months. Each entry provides the latest development and key vehicle data. The entries are in manufacturer’s name alphabetical order. Unit conversions are provided for the data for the first two entries.
AeroVironment Mercury nano air vehicle
Extending endurance, improving the hover to forward flight transition, reducing the mass and acoustic signature are all goals for an 18-month, $2.1 million phase two Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency contract for AeroVironment’s flapping wing demonstrator nano air vehicle (NAV) Mercury. The NAV made a 20s flight in December 2008 at the end of DARPA’s NAV programme’s first phase. AeroVironment says that the nano aircraft is capable of climbing and descending vertically, flying sideways left and right and forward and backward, under remote control.
|Endurance||20s (to date)|
|Cruise speed||19kt (36km/h)|
The US Army has an ongoing acquisition objective for about 2,200 Raven systems and has taken delivery of more than 1,300 to date. Their analogue avionics will be converted to digital avionics over the next two fiscal years by undisclosed funding. Digital avionics enables a longer range and more efficient bandwidth usage. The remaining 800 systems will arrive with digital avionics. A system consists of three Raven air vehicles, providing the army with more than 6,500 of the vehicles.
|Endurance||90min / 110min battery dependent|
AeroVironment SP2S Wasp
Stealth, persistent, perch and stare UAV debuts AeroVironment is developing technology under the $4.6 million stealthy, persistent, perch and stare (SP2S) contract to enable a new generation of micro air vehicles based on the Wasp platform. The DARPA-funded programme includes plans to demonstrate vertical launch, transition to forward flight, vertical landing and sustained “perching”, where the vehicle can transmit live video and images to a home base. Key goals next year include identifying energy harvesting techniques to enable operations over a 24h period.
BAE Systems Mantis
The BAE Systems Mantis will fly later this year from a test range in Woomera, Australia. The technology demonstrator for the high-altitude, long-endurance armed reconnaissance UAV was to fly in February. After the phase one Woomera testing, Mantis may spend some of its second phase development time in-theatre in Afghanistan. This phase could also see weapons release activities. Unveiled at the Farnborough air show in 2008, Mantis has been funded by the UK Ministry of Defence’s under what was its strategic UAV programme, which has been merged with the tactical UAV into what is now known just as the UAV programme.
BAE Systems Taranis
A UK unmanned combat air vehicle technology demonstrator, Taranis is a £124 million ($205 million) four-year programme. The demonstrator is planned to enter ground testing this year and fly in 2010. It is part of the UK government’s strategic UAV experiment. The goal is a UCAV demonstrator with fully integrated autonomous systems and low observable features. Led by BAE, its partners include Rolls-Royce, Qinetiq and Smiths Aerospace. The Taranis uses the BAE Systems Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer’s Rolls-Royce/Turbomeca Adour Mk951 6,500lb-thrust (30kN) turbofan engine and has been said to be the same size as a Hawk.
Boeing A160 hummingbird
The next 12 months could spell fortune or failure for Boeing’s decade-old investment in developing and testing the A160 Hummingbird. The long-endurance, unmanned rotorcraft designed by Predator inventor Abe Karem has demonstrated breakthrough technical performance, achieving a record-breaking 18h flight in 2008. The aircraft employs optimum speed rotor technology, allowing the rotor system to provide power efficiently in both hover and forward flight.
But the A160’s success in the air has not been matched so far by customer appeal. In 2003, the US Army passed over the A160, selecting the more immediately available Northrop Grumman RQ-8B Fire Scout for the Class IV UAS rotorcraft requirement. The A160 must now find an operational customer soon or face a production line shutdown as early as October.
The most likely source of new orders may be the US special operations community. In May, the US Special Operations Command revealed plans to buy about 20 A160s, which would be designated the YMQ-18, in fiscal year 2010. The timing of the order has not yet been disclosed. Meanwhile, the US Marine Corps is also evaluating the A160 to serve as an “immediate cargo UAS” that could be deployed as early as February, with the mission of hauling up to 910kg loads to forward bases within a 24h period.
|Cruise speed||up to 140kt|
Boeing Phantom Ray
Boeing on 8 May unveiled the internally funded Phantom Ray demonstrator, which reuses the prototype X-45C vehicle developed for DARPA’s cancelled joint unmanned combat air systems (J-UCAS) programme. First flight of the Phantom Ray is scheduled for December 2010. Boeing plans to conduct 10 flights over a six-month period, picking up from where the J-UCAS programme ended.
The first flight will be preceded by laboratory testing in late 2009, followed by ground testing next year. The aircraft could serve as a testbed for new technology as Boeing develops concepts and designs for MQ-X and F/A-XX, both emerging aircraft requirements for US forces. Boeing declined to give any technical data.
Boeing Phantom Works and Aurora Flight Sciences plan to demonstrate four-day sustained flight with the high-altitude, long-endurance UAS in the third quarter of 2010. The HALE is designed to fly surveillance missions above 65,000ft for periods far beyond the 30h endurance of RQ-4. Powered by a Ford-designed liquid hydrogen fuel cell engine, the HALE should carry a 910kg payload for seven days or a 225kg payload for 10 days.
The Integrator UAS is in competition to win the US Navy/US Marine Corps small tactical UAS (STUAS)/tier II contract. Designed as a follow-on to the ScanEagle UAS, the Integrator was unveiled in August 2007. Insitu continued developing the aircraft after the STUAS/Tier II contract award was delayed by about two years. The aircraft twin-boomed Integrator more than doubles the payload capacity compared with the ScanEagle, while offering equivalent endurance.
Elbit Systems Hermes-90
Israel’s Elbit Systems Hermes-90 is based on the design of the Innocon Mini Falcon II. The basic Hermes-90 configuration includes a Micro Compass electro-optic payload, which includes a colour CCD day camera, third-generation cooled thermal imaging and a laser marker. UAS Dynamics, a joint venture of General Dynamics and Elbit Systems, is proposing its Storm UAS for the US Navy, US Marine Corps Small Tactical Unmºanned Aerial System competition. Storm is a modified version of the Hermes-90.
General Atomics MQ-1C Sky Warrior
After operating several early versions of the MQ-1C in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US Army has greatly accelerated development and production of the MQ-1C.
General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper
The US Air Force declared the MQ-9 Reaper operational in October 2007, and it has maintained an active profile especially in operations in Afghanistan ever since. Based on the Predator B design, other customers include Italy, Turkey, the UK and the US Customs and Border Patrol. Germany is also evaluating a purchase of the MQ-9. Although it has been an operational system for nearly two years, the Reaper was fielded before many of its baseline capabilities had become mature. Development of the Reaper’s capabilities is continuing and is scheduled to increase in pace over the next few years. The USAF has already moved to integrate a Northrop Grumman airborne signals intelligence payload (ASIP) to spy on mainly low-band frequencies. The USAF also plans to integrate a wide area airborne surveillance (WAAS) sensor developed by Sierra Nevada called Gorgon Stare, which can provide 12 different streams of full motion video simultaneously. More upgrades includes increasing the aircraft’s gross take-off weight, ice detection capability, Mode 5 interrogator friendly/foe and completing airworthiness certification.
Honeywell RQ-16 T-Hawk
Honeywell started developing the T-Hawk with the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in 2003, and a Block 1 version was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan with the US Navy four years later. A Block 2 design, with a gimballed sensor and an electronic control unit upgrade for the engine, was scheduled for delivery in the second quarter. The USN has ordered 180 RQ-16s. The T-Hawk is also being purchased by the British Army for use in counter improvised explosive device stand-off inspections. November will see a training exercise in Jordan and deployment to Afghanistan is due next year.
|Mass||7.7kg dry weight|
Israel Aerospace Industries Malat Heron I/TP
Already operated by the French and the Canadians in Afghanistan the Israel Aerospace Industries Malat division Heron family are medium-altitude long-endurance UAVs that are now being considered by France and Germany in competitions that could be resolved early next year.
In Germany the Heron TP is in competition with the General Atomics Predator B. Called the Reaper by the US Air Force and the UK’s Royal Air Force, a German government representative said in May that the name Reaper would not be acceptable to them.
At the UV Europe 2009 conference in Wales in June a German defence procurement official said the competition would be concluded “imminently”. The French competition sees the Heron pitched against the tri-nation Advanced UAV, a project led by EADS, and which has been renamed Talarion. However, the German government is known to be unenthusiastic about this twin-engined multipurpose UAV concept.
The Heron I, meanwhile, is being evaluated for possible permanent deployment in El Salvador, as part of the country’s joint war with the USA against drugs traffickers. It has already been supplied to US forces in El Salvador by IAI’s US subsidiary Stark Aviation. It was used in the “Proycto Monitoreo” project in an anti-drugs surveillance capacity using its electro-optical sensor. IAI is also developing a maritime version of the TP variant called Shoval that could fly by the end of the year.
Northrop Grumman RQ-4N
Since contract award in March 2008, Northrop Grumman has been working to refine the design for the US Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) programme. Northrop successfully completed a system requirements review in the first quarter and is on tract for a preliminary design review in the first quarter of 2010. The RQ-4N is based on the Global Hawk Block 20 and fitted with a Northrop-built maritime radar, electro-optical and infrared cameras, electronic support measures and a communications relay antennas. The BAMS fleet is intended to operate as an unmanned adjunct to the manned Boeing P-8A Poseidon, with both types replacing Lockheed P-3C Orions in the maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare roles.
Northrop Grumman Bat
Where does the new NG/Swift partnership go from here?
Bat is Northrop Grumman’s scalable and reconfigurable small unmanned air system designed for irregular warfare and for persistent real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. It can be configured for tactical missions such as communications relay, signals intelligence, maritime surveillance and small weapons delivery. The product line features wingspans from 2-10m. Fully autonomous, recovery options include primary net or optional landing gear.
According to Northrop, the blended wing body design has a low acoustic, visual, infrared and radar signature. The payload bay can accept modular payloads and the UAV is designed for future upgrades including a new engine, new launcher capability and capability enhancements.
Northrop has flown five times over four days a 3m span Bat that demonstrated a communications payload in a desert setting. The pneumatic catapult launcher and net recovery system can be transported by Humvees, helicopters, tiltrotor or cargo aircraft. Multiple Bats can be operated simultaneously from a single ground control segment that can feed multiple imagery workstations or warfighters with PDA/ruggedised laptops.
|Cruise speed||up to 125kt|
Northrop/EADS Euro Hawk
With a planned roll-out in October and first flight early in the first quarter of 2010, the Euro Hawk is a Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 20 that is being developed as an unmanned replacement for the German navy’s Dassault-Breguet Atlantic signals intelligence aircraft. Northrop is providing an off-the-shelf US Air Force airframe, while EADS is responsible for developing the Euro Hawk’s signals intelligence mission suite and German-unique ground-based sensor exploitation system.
Northrop Grumman RQ-4B Block 40
The latest model to debut in the RQ-4B series was scheduled to complete first flight in late July. Northrop unveiled the first RQ-4B Block 40 on 30 June in Palmdale, California. The Block 40 model is designed to carry a sensor for wide area surveillance called the multi-platform radar technology insertion programme, although the USAF may decide to add more sensors to its available payload in the future. The USAF ultimately plans to buy 15 examples of the Block 40 type.
Northrop Grumman X-47B
Rolled out on 16 December, first flight of the X-47B is on track for the fourth quarter this year. Northrop has not moved to back off that timeline. It will be the first flight test for the programme since the X-47A flew in February 2003, in support of Northrop’s bid in the joint unmanned combat air systems (J-UCAS) programme, which was later cancelled. The US Navy later selected the X-47B for its unmanned combat air system-demonstrator (UCAS-D) programme.
The USN wants to prove the feasibility of operating an unmanned aircraft with a stealthy planform on the deck of an aircraft carrier. Flight trials at sea are scheduled to begin in 2011. The demonstration has also been expanded to include an aerial refuelling component during the later stages of the programme, which is funded up to fiscal year 2013. The UCAS-D programme survived a cancellation threat last year. The USN originally proposed to transition from UCAS-D to an acquisition called N-UCAS after 2014, but USN officials last year revealed a new plan to bridge to a new acquisition programme called F/A-XX after 2020, with both manned and unmanned aircraft under study.
|Endurance||6,475km ferry range|
|Cruise speed||0.45 Mach|
Prox Dynamics PD-100 Black Hornet
In development, this rotorcraft nano air vehicle’s prototype Hornet-3a made its maiden outdoor flight on 7 April in Asker, Norway. It was flown by remote control using a two-way datalink and an on-board fly-by-wire flight-control system for stability, aiding gust resistance. Its flown outdoors in wind conditions reaching 3.89kt. The Hvalstad, Norway-based company achieved its first flight of its Hornet-1 prototype in July 2008. It lasted for 2min, but later flights saw it achieve 10min. Hornet-1 was used to verify the concept of the rotor system mechanics and gather aerodynamic data. Hornet-2 also achieved 10min.
In 2008 the company secured $1 million in private financing. Since April this year the Hornet-3b prototype has flown. Prox Dynamics has flown five prototypes to date. All have had their rotor systems modified to improve performance. The PD-100 helicopter will provide video feed to its user, have a carbonfibre structure and use batteries that can be fully charged in 5min. The helicopter’s microelectronics and sensors were expected to come from the model aircraft industry and its range will be limited by the video link.
Prox Dynamics’ founder and chief executive Petter Muren has worked in a supporting role to one US company involved in the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s nano air vehicle programme. Following the Hornet-3 prototypes, future vehicles will use GPS-guided autopilot. At a distance of about 3m, Prox Dynamics says the ambient noise makes the Hornet silent.
Zephyr is to be the first solar-powered UAV to be deployed in-theatre. A prototype could be operated in Iraq and Afghanistan. Designed for surveillance or communication missions, a Zephyr prototype has been flown at the US Army’s Yuma proving grounds in Arizona. The 82h 37min endurance record was set by Zephyr 6. The previous Zephyr 5 prototype flew at the White Sands missile range in New Mexico. A contract has now been awarded for Zephyr 7.
Long-range signals intelligence is the US Department of Defense’s primary interest in Zephyr. Cdr Eliot Gunn of the US office of the secretary of defence has told Flight International about the intention to fly Zephyr in Iraq and Afghanistan, although Qinetiq says it has no knowledge of this.
|Endurance||82h 37min demonstrated|
Raytheon/Swift Engineering KillerBee-4
Raytheon’s future with the KillerBee-4 is likely to be defined over the coming months. The aircraft is in competition with three others for the STUAS/Tier II contract award. In the absence of such a contract, it is not clear what Raytheon’s role in the programme will be. In May, Northrop Grumman acquired the KillerBee design rights from Swift Engineering, and licensed Raytheon to propose the KB-4 independently for STUAS. Raytheon says it also has the right under the agreement to scale the aircraft up or down, but Northrop rejects this claim.
Schiebel S-100 Camcopter
The Austrian rotorcraft UAV made history in June 2009 by being the first to fly at the Paris air show. Schiebel expects to sign an initial requirement contract with the German government for further trials with the country’s army and navy later this year. The S-100 has already completed automatic take-off and landing trials on board a German naval vessel.
In late 2008 it completed three one-week campaigns flying from a German navy K130 Class Corvette in the Baltic Sea. The S-100 has also been tested by the Austrian army, with a four-day trial taking place in December 2008. In 2007 the company teamed with Thales UK to offer the S-100 to the Royal Navy. However that competition was not progressed. The Camcopter has been operated in a number of countries, including its initial customer the United Arab Emirates, since 2005.
Other countries where the S-100 has seen service are India, Pakistan and Spain. The United Arab Emirates air force’s unmanned air vehicle research and technology centre was working with Schiebel to develop an integrated vertical take-off and landing tactical UAV system based on the S-100.
In 2006 the UAE was believed to have ordered 40 of the Al Sber S-100 derivatives. Later that same year the S-100 was expected to be demonstrated to the Royal Australian Navy. Its 50kg payload capability was first demonstrated as a humanitarian de-mining platform in the US Army in 1997, although it has failed to enter the US military’s inventory.
A UK version of the Elbit Systems Hermes 450, Watchkeeper will begin field trials at West Wales airport in Parcaberporth from October. The test programme has completed the work planned for the trials in Meggidio, Israel. These included the operation of its datalink, ground moving target indicator radar, ground control station and electro-optical, infrared sensor package, video downlink and the radar controlled automatic take-off and landing system.
Urban Aeronautics Mule
With its maiden flight postponed from April and then June, the first take-off for the ducted fan logistics and medevac UAV is imminent. Urban Aeronautics has also begun windtunnel testing of a 250kt-capable variant, but has not decided whether to take its development forward. Mule’s flight-control system and sensors have been tested on Urban’s Panda vehicle, a flying scale model of Mule that has similar aerodynamic characteristics.