Purchase of Hummingbird and Maverick developer will widen manufacturer's portfolio in emerging sector
In a strategic move aimed at broadening its growing unmanned air vehicle portfolio, Boeing has acquired Frontier Systems, the California-based developer of the vertical take-off and landing, rotary-winged A-160 Humming-bird and Maverick UAVs.
The A-160 Hummingbird, which began test flights at Victorville, California on 29 January, joins an extended UAV family that includes the low-cost Scan Eagle being developed with InSitu Group, the Canard Rotor Wing and the X-45 unmanned combat air vehicle.
Boeing intends to complete concept test and development of the A-160 through its Phantom Works division under a recently awarded US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contract, and to transfer the UAV to its Integrated Defense Systems unit to begin low-rate production, expected to start around 2008.
Key features of the A-160 include a variable-speed, hingeless rigid rotor powered by a 300hp (225kW) derivative of a commercial automobile engine. This combination is designed to operate at optimum rotational speed, producing a high cruise speed, low disc loading, low tip speed and low fuel consumption. The A-160 is therefore theoretically capable of unprecedented range and endurance for a rotary wing vehicle, and this was the main attraction for Boeing, which describes the concept as "game- changing technology".
Frontier designed the A-160 to fly up to 4,625km (2,500nm), with mission endurance of up to 30-40h. Maximum altitude is expected to be around 30,000ft (9,150m), with payload capability of around 135-455kg (300-1,000lb).
Under its original DARPA contract, Frontier was building three initial A-160s for flight tests. "Under the next phase of concept development we will build another four aircraft and retrofit some of the current prototypes," says Dina Hyde, Boeing general manager for advanced unmanned systems concept exploration. Although the variable-speed rotor was "the main aspect" that attracted Boeing's interest, Hyde says it was alsothe "smarts" in this company, and its "creativity".
GUY NORRIS / LOS ANGELES
Source: Flight International