US Army also restoring two Bell AH-1 Cobras to airworthiness to be used for firing trials and to carry sensor packages

The US Army is negotiating with Northrop Grumman to use the RQ-8A Fire Scout, now being test flown by the US Navy, to develop concepts for planned systems including the Unmanned Combat Armed Rotorcraft (UCAR).

Sikorsky has reached a co-operative agreement with the army to evaluate the shrouded-rotor Cypher, and Bell is discussing a similar deal for its Eagle Eye tilt-rotor. Both were unsuccessful contenders for the US Navy's vertical take-off and landing unmanned air vehicle (VTOL UAV) requirement, won by the Fire Scout. The navy, however, will not fund full-scale production of the Schweizer 330-based RQ-8.  

"One of the things we're focused on is the power of a VTOL UAV versus a fixed-wing system," says Col Waldo Carmona, US Army Applied Aviation Technology Directorate (AATD) commander. The army wants an extended-range multipurpose vehicle capable of operating in urban areas and over difficult terrain from forward locations. The UCAR is a longer-term US Army and Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency programme now in the conceptual stage.

"There are a lot of questions that need answering," says Carmona. "What will be the right balance between situational awareness, survivability and the cost of making UCARs survivable? We can't wait until UCAR is flying, there needs to be answers by 2006." In addition to expanding its UAV testbeds, the AATB is restoring two Bell AH-1 Cobras to airworthiness to support UCAR work from this summer.

The two AH-1s will be modified for manned and autonomous unmanned flight and will be used for firing trials with the Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire and Raytheon FIM-92 Stinger missiles and the internal 20mm cannon and to carry sensor packages developed in conjunction with the army's Night Vision Laboratory. The AATD is also hoping to take possession from DARPA in 2003 of the recently flown A160 Hummingbird.

Source: Flight International