Lockheed Martin is ramping up long-range endurance tests on its Fury unmanned air vehicle ahead of low-rate production later this year, clocking in more than 200 flight hours since May 2016.

The group 3 UAV has demonstrated a 12h endurance with a 45kg (100lb) payload that includes electro-optical/infrared surveillance systems, voice communications relays, SATCOM links, and multiple signals intelligence payloads. Lockheed has flown as many hours on the Fury in the past year as the programme has accomplished in the three prior to 2016, says Brendan Rhatigan, Lockheed unmanned systems site director at San Luis Obispo, California.

“Several times we’ve proven we can fly over 12h,” he says. “When we flew at [US Army] Dugway [Proving Ground], for safety reasons we landed with some fuel left in the vehicle. We think we could get 13h with some of the tuning we’ve been doing with the engine. We’re finishing those changes now and this summer we’ll measure how much endurance we’ll get out of it.”

Additional ground demonstrations are planned for May at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, where Lockheed has tested several payload improvements on Fury. Lockheed has seen growing interest in Fury as a technology demonstrator, Rhatigan says.

“It’s the on-station time,” he says. “It can stay up in the air and collect a lot of data.”

Lockheed sees an opportunity in the expeditionary market for the group 3, runway-independent Fury, with an eye on special operations missions and the US Army’s Shadow replacement.

“You can go into a hostile country, set up a 200 by 200ft patch with a catapult and have it get on station in a pretty quick manner and come back with intelligence information,” Rhatigan says. “We believe that we can get group 4 type capability with a much smaller logistics footprint at less costs. Instead of a runway and a hangar, you can show up with a couple of tractor trailer trucks and set this up quickly and give a similar capability.”

In October, the army expressed the need for a runway-independent version of the Shadow fielded in the 2020s, but would not elaborate on whether the UAS would be larger than the current 20ft-long, 209kg, tier 3 aircraft.

Lockheed is also finishing reliability improvements on the Fury’s engine, including exhaust changes to improve the aircraft’s acoustics. Another upgrade will help decrease the pace of engine replacements. Lockheed is conducting ground tests to analyze the engine’s endurance and will begin its first flight tests in June. The new configuration, which Lockheed has dubbed the .75 configuration, will include a structural upgrade on the center body designed to reduce damage on the vehicle after the aircraft is caught

While the US Army has not bought Fury, Lockheed has secured a customer in the Middle East, Rhatigan says. Lockheed will build six more vehicles for the customer by the end of this year, with an option to built six more in 2018 if the customer chooses that option, he adds. The company will complete a test readiness review in early August and move into flight tests for the .80 configuration designed for the international customer, he says.

"The difference between .74 and .75 [configuration] is mostly a structural enhancement to increase margins and system robustness in high load conditions such as launching and net recovery," Rhatigan says. "The difference between .75 and .80 is mostly documentation updates in addition to any future discoveries found in flight testing."

Source: FlightGlobal.com