Northrop Grumman has revealed it is studying concepts for what it calls an ultra high-altitude, long-endurance (U-HALE) unmanned air vehicle at the request of a classified US government customer.

The aircraft would provide persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance from near space, and the concept represents the next generation of HALE technology, says Rick Ludwig, Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems' director of unmanned systems business development.

A vehicle of the proposed U-HALE type could "hover for a month over the Mediterranean and just stare", says Ludwig. A conceptual image of the UAV reveals a straight flying wing structure with twin inverted tails and two puller propellers projecting ahead of the centre wing section, with drive shafts reaching back into fairings just above the leading edge.

No powerplant details have been released, but the company says neither solar nor hydrogen fuel cells are being examined - despite the latter's use in the Aerovironment Global Observer and Aurora Flight Sciences Orion HALE aircraft.


"We are going for the next generation after that," says Bill Walker, manager business development and strategy development for Northrop's future unmanned systems unit. "Not solar, because it doesn't work except at moderate latitudes. We are not doing hydrogen [fuel cells] yet, although we have got people working on hydrogen fuel cells and engines. We aren't pursuing those. When we say future, we are looking at other fuel sources."

Source: Flight International