Piaggio Aero and Selex ES unveiled plans for an unmanned variant of the former's P-180 Avanti II at the IDEX exhibition in Abu Dhabi on 18 February.
Named the P.1HH HammerHead, the product is the result of a two-year effort to adapt the business aircraft to conduct unmanned intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.
"We plan to fly the P.1HH HammerHead unmanned platform demonstrator by this summer, with the aim to conduct the maiden flight of the future dual-use medium-altitude long-endurance [MALE] fixed-wing unmanned air system prototype by year-end," says Alberto Galassi, Piaggio Aero chief executive.
The first low-speed taxi test of a HammerHead air vehicle was conducted at the Italian air force's Decimomannu air base in Sardinia on 14 February. The UAS will be flown in nearby segregated airspace after the completion of vehicle control and management system integration and ground test work.
Piaggio's Hammerhead UAV is based on its P180 Avanti II airframe
System certification activities should be completed before the end of 2014, Galassi adds, with Italian military authorities to certificate the platform to enable it to be operated in both restricted and unrestricted flight areas.
The HammerHead aircraft has a more aerodynamic configuration than the Avanti II, including a reinforced wing with a 15.5m (50.8ft) span, increased surface area and higher aspect ratio. The removal of its cockpit and main cabin equipment will allow a large central internal fuel tank and avionics bay to be added, with sensors and communications installations in the nose and under-fuselage stations. A satellite communication radome is added above the fuselage, while two external hardpoints will be installed ahead of the main landing gear to carry additional ISR equipment.
Piaggio says the unmanned aircraft will offer an endurance of more than 16h when operating at altitudes up to 45,000ft, and has a targeted maximum mission payload of 909kg (2,000lb). The aircraft's outer wing-sections can be removed for transportation.
Selex ES provides the mission management system, which is based on its skyISTAR suite, plus the vehicle management and control system, air data terminal and ground control segment. The Finmeccanica company will also supply sensors including a Seaspray 7300E search radar, plus communications and datalink equipment.
The companies believe the HammerHead could meet requirements such as Canada's joint unmanned surveillance target attack system programme for a MALE UAS.