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Textron demos thrust-vectoring tech for possible RQ-7 Shadow replacement

Textron Systems continues to develop its thrust-vectoring X5-55 unmanned air vehicle (UAV), adding propulsion pod enclosures and a landing platform, as well as improving its flight control software, with an aim of demonstrating technology that could be used on a replacement aircraft for the US Army’s RQ-7 Shadow.

The company believes that takeoff and landing area requirements for the US Army and Special Operations Command will continue to be restricted as the services attempt to operate from smaller bases. The four electric-powered thrust-vectoring rotors on the X5-55 allow the aircraft to takeoff and land vertically.

Textron Systems says that thrust-vectoring also allows the company to reduce the number of moving parts on the aircraft by eliminating control surfaces.

“We can simplify the platform, the fuselage assembly, with less part counts, less things to manufacture, less things to fabricate, as well as less things to control in our control schema,” said Cristopher Baumeister, vice president of engineering of unmanned systems with Textron Systems. “You don’t have to trim those surfaces out, you don’t have to adjust them, maintain them, replace them.”

Thrust vectoring also allows the X5-55 to stop mid-flight, hover and stare down at surveillance targets, giving an operator the range of a fixed-winged UAV with the agility of a rotor-based system.

The experimental aircraft was first flown in July 2017 and has a gross take-off weight of 34kg (75lb), the company disclosed at the AUVSI Xponential show in May. The UAV can carry a payload of almost 2.3kg and has an electrical power capacity of 50W. Its range depends on the payload, but is around a 100nm (200km), the company says.

David Phillips, Textron System’s senior vice president for unmanned systems, emphasized the X5-55 is a demonstration platform only, aimed at improving technology for future programmes, and the company has no plans to offer it as a product.

Textron has also built a hybrid quad version of the Aerosonde, a fixed wing surveillance drone, which uses four fixed electric-powered rotors for vertical take-off and landing and a piston engine-powered propeller for horizontal flight. The hybrid Aerosonde hasn’t been flown for the US military yet, because it hasn’t been specifically requested. Nonetheless, Textron is offering it in anticipation of constrained take and landing requirements from the military.

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