Boeing's official unveiling of the Unmanned Little Bird (ULB) - a modified MD 530F helicopter - signals a new challenge to the selection of the Northrop Grumman RQ-8B Fire Scout by the US Army and US Navy.

Boeing has presented the ULB as an adjunct to the AH-6J light attack and MH-6J utility helicopters operated by the US Special Operations Command (Flight International, 17-24 August), capable of hauling a 135kg (300lb) payload for 10h or a 455kg payload for 6-8h.

But the ULB also is the focus of a Boeing strategy to claim a share of the Class IV UAV requirement for the US Army, says Boeing's director advanced rotorcraft systems, Waldo Carmona.

The army has selected the RQ-8B for its Class IV UAV requirement within the Boeing-led Future Combat Systems programme. But that capability is not due to arrive for several years. Meanwhile, Boeing plans to offer the ULB as an off-the-shelf, Class IV UAV for the pre-FCS-equipped army, says Carmona.

Boeing launched the ULB programme in October 2003 and first flight was in September. The first autonomous take-off and landing was achieved in October.

As the MD 530F, Carmona says, the ULB has a heritage of shipboard compatibility, making it also a potential alternative for the navy, which also now plans to buy the four-bladed RQ-8B.

The ULB design includes a tactical common datalink connected to a laptop-based ground station. Boeing also plans to enable Level 5 control of the UAV from the front seat of its AH-64 Apache cockpit.

The unmanned conversion kit has been designed to fit any helicopter under 2,500kg, which is limited only by the size of the actuator system, says Carmona.



Source: Flight International