The Bell Helicopter Eagle Eye tiltrotor unmanned air vehicle (UAV) has resumed flying in preparation for the forthcoming US Navy vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) demonstration, which may lead to the fielding of an operational system.

The USN's plans for a maritime VTOL UAV were shelved five years ago, but interest was rekindled as the Alliant Techsystems Outrider drone project suffered setbacks. The US Congress earmarked $15 million for further evaluation of the improved Bombardier Canadair CL-227 Sentinel - dubbed the CL-427 Puma - but the Pentagon decided on a fly-off among VTOL drones.

Bell Helicopter and Bombardier hope to be selected for the demonstration, expected to involve at least two competitors. The Canadian company will offer the improved CL-327, or could upgrade to the soon-to-be flight-tested CL-427 Puma, if required

Dornier's SEAMOS UAV may be unavailable for US flight testing. Sikorsky Aircraft is considering whether to enter its Cypher UAV, and another possible candidate is Boeing's Heliwing tailsitter UAV.

Kaman is not in the VTOL contest, but is eyeing applications for a UAV drawing on the K-MAX helicopter design. Under the designation Spyglass, Kaman Aerospace has studied a family of stealthy UAVs scalable in size and gross weight from 550kg to 5,500kg.

After being taken out of storage, 11 hover tests of the Eagle Eye were completed at the company's Fort Worth site, lasting a total of nearly 2h. The Eagle Eye UAV was last flown in 1994 as part of a previous Pentagon-funded demonstration.

The USN will conduct a VTOL land-based flight demonstration, with an option for sea trials. A Broad Agency Announcement, launching the competition, was released in October, and contract awards are expected in December.

The land-based demonstration will be conducted in the first half of 1998. Two drones could take part in the sea trials.

Source: Flight International