Problems with VTOL research platform resolved, as Barracuda crash details surface

EADS Innovation Works plans to expand the flight envelope of its co-axial configuration Sharc vertical take-off and landing unmanned air vehicle by year-end, after encountering engine overheating during a first test campaign conducted in June.

"We experienced an overheating problem," confirms EADS Innovation Works sensors, electronics and systems integration research team leader Olaf Heinzinger. "We found that ground testing had not been representative of all [flight] conditions," he told the first Council of the European Aeronautical Societies' European air and space conference in Berlin on 13 September.

Launched in 2005, the Sharc project aims to develop a research platform, initially to aid sensor integration and on-board image processing development. EADS opted for the coaxial configuration because the lack of tail rotor-induced forces allows for more horizontally stable flight, and provides a better platform for ground sweeping sensors, the company says.

Offering an endurance of up to 4h with a 50kg (110lb) payload and 45 litres (9.9USgal) of fuel, the 200kg Sharc has a 3.2m (10.4ft) rotor diameter and has a top speed of 86kt (160km/h). The UAV uses laser and barometric altitude sensors and INS/GPS guidance, while a simulation system is used to plan sorties.

EADS has meanwhile confirmed the cause of a September 2006 crash which destroyed its lone Barracuda unmanned combat air vehicle demonstrator on only its second flight. EADS Defence & Security chief executive Stefan Zoller says the aircraft was lost due to a "software bug" that surfaced when its undercarriage was lowered in flight for the first time. Vital flight control functions were terminated when the system incorrectly sensed "weight on the nose" similar to that experienced on landing, he says.

Additional reporting by Craig Hoyle

Source: Flight International