Saab has launched windtunnel tests of the Neuron unmanned combat air vehicle’s now frozen outer shape, as the six-nation programme advances into its manufacturing phase.
Led by Dassault, the €400 million ($570 million) Neuron technology demonstration effort was launched at the 2005 Paris air show and went under contract in February 2006 with government and industrial involvement from France, Greece, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Final assembly work will begin in late 2010.
“We don’t expect any major surprises, since aerodynamic behaviour of the Neuron is well known from earlier tests,” says Saab programme manager Mats Ohlson of the work, which began in Stockholm, Sweden late last month. “The results will be used to build the databases that will be used by the flight control system for the first flights.”
© Saab Aerosystems
The project’s one reduced-scale demonstrator, to weigh around 6.3t, is due to make its debut sortie from France’s Istres test centre near Marseilles on 31 March 2012. This is expected to comprise autonomous start-up, navigation using pre-planned waypoints and autonomous landing, says Saab.
Low observable and weapons deployment trials will follow at Sweden’s Vidsel test range, before flight activities culminate at Italy’s Perdasdefogu site using a smart internal weapons bay. Funding will conclude in late 2013.
“When the programme is finished they have a choice: an operational product, continued demonstration, or to go their own way,” says Michael Franzén, Saab Aerosystems’ programme director, UAV systems. “Our feeling is that the Neuron concept in Europe will be followed by something,” says general manager Pontus Kallén.
Sweden has a 25% stake in Neuron, with Saab’s responsibilities including supplying its core avionics and mission computer, working on its autonomous capabilities and manufacturing its front and centre fuselage.
© Saab Aerosystems
The company recently machined the air vehicle’s largest aluminium structure, Frame 14 (above), and will start fuselage assembly work this month. Almost 1,000 people are employed on the Neuron project in Europe, including around 100 at Saab.