Piasecki Aircraft is tweaking its affordable reconfigurable embedded system (ARES) concept to create a candidate for the US Marine Corps’ future expeditionary unmanned aircraft.
As part of its Marine Air Ground Task Force – Unmanned Expeditionary Capabilities programme, also known as MUX, the Marines are seeking a Class 5 UAV that can keep up with their fleet of MV-22s. The UAV would complete assault, maritime interdiction, medical evacuation, tactical resupply and combat search and rescue missions.
In 2014, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works and partner Piasecki revealed their ARES concept for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which would replace legacy helicopters with a modular vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft. The ARES demonstrator features tilting ducted fans and a load-carrying structure that can fly with a 1,360kg (3,000lb) payload.
Parallel to the development of its ARES demonstrator for DARPA, Piasecki is also funding an objective design focused on emerging requirements from the US Marine Corps and Army for vertical takeoff and landing systems, John Piasecki, chief executive of Piasecki Aircraft, said at the American Helicopters Society International's forum this week. Piasecki will apply lessons learned from the demonstrator, but will throw out the earlier DARPA requirement for a road vehicle, he says. Instead of a road vehicle, the new configuration will include electric lift fans and a tail, which will reduce pitch and drag. Piasecki will also focus on increasing flight speed from the demonstrator’s 150kt to 250kt.
“Duct optimisation is another area where we hope to be doing a lot of additional work,” he says. “Most people don’t appreciate the contribution of the duct in vertical lift and analysis indicates that 50% augmentation of lift over the propeller by the duct.”
Piasecki wants a scaled-up ARES to be ready well before the USMC’s targeted 2026 initial operational capability date for MUX. ARES’ modular design, which can switch between an intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, casualty evacuation and cargo resupply mission make the aircraft an ideal candidate for MUX, which Piasecki believes will turn to be a family of vehicles rather than one aircraft, he says. Previous efforts to transition ARES into a flying car were driven out by DARPA in phase 3 of the programme to make room for those modular attributes, though cost concerns also played a role, he adds.
“[The USMC] They’ve got some aircraft that are well tailored to high speed, long range, long endurance type missions,” Piasecki tells FlightGlobal. “In the case of ARES, we’ll have the required speed, required range, our endurance is not going to be good as something that’s tailored specifically to an endurance vehicle, but it’s going to be able to do a lot of other missions like cargo and MEDEVAC [medical evacuation].”
The USMC is still working through cost drivers and requirements for MUX in its analysis of alternatives, but Piasecki’s hypothesis that MUX could turn out to be a family of systems is not far from the Marines’ guess. The USMC is also looking for alignment with the US Army on a cargo UAV, Lt Col Noah Spataro, USMC unmanned aircraft systems capabilities integration and requirements officer told FlightGlobal at the annual AUVSI Xponential show in Dallas, Texas this week.
“We don’t know what MUX is going to look like, it could be a 10,000lb airplane or 40,000lb,” Spataro says. “I don't think we can make the Transformer that can do everything, so we could find out through the [analysis of alternatives] that you might need a couple different platforms.”
DARPA’s driving force to build ARES also links up with Marine Corps’ need to get their troops off the road. When the agency conceived the tactical ground and air mobile concept, they did so with the specific mission to move troops away from improvised explosive devices, as well as implement expeditionary ship to shore support, Piasecki says.