Turboshaft-powered A160T helicopter set to fly ahead of demonstrations for US military

Boeing hopes to fly the definitive turboshaft-powered version of its A160 Hummingbird long-endurance unmanned helicopter by the end of this month. Powered by a single Pratt & Whitney Canada PW207, the first A160T has begun ground runs at the company's Victorville site in California.

"We hope to fly in the next week or so," says George Muellner, president, advanced systems. Boeing is building three vehicles under a US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency technology demonstration, plus eight production-standard A160Ts for evaluation by US Special Operations Command.

Initial A160s were powered by four- and six-cylinder Subaru car engines, enabling the vehicle to achieve 12h endurance on gasoline fuel. Plans for a heavy-fuel diesel engine giving 40h endurance were shelved and Boeing is instead aiming for more than 20h endurance with the turboshaft.

The DARPA programme is intended to demonstrate the performance of the Hummingbird with its optimum-speed rigid rotor by September, while SOCOM plans to evaluate the design's military utility for a range of missions. Payloads to be carried during the SOCOM demonstration include long-range electro-optics and three-dimensional laser radar, plus radio and television broadcasting and leaflet drops for psychological operations. It will also assess emergency resupply and personnel recovery using a cargo "canoe" pod carrying 360kg (800lb).

Muellner says the A160 will also carry the Forester radar being developed under a separate DARPA programme to detect and track moving targets through foliage, with the radar already being flown using a Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopter. The Hummingbird is designed to hover out-of-ground-effect at 15,000ft (4,600m) and fly at up to 30,000ft, also allowing it to be used for communications relay.


Source: Flight International