Lockheed Martin to fly proof-of-concept MUAV after first vehicle suffered damage in 2004 high-speed taxi tests

Lockheed Martin Skunk Works is planning another attempt to fly its morphing unmanned air vehicle after the first was foiled last year by a damaged undercarriage.

The morphing UAV (MUAV), which is designed to fold its wings inwards in flight to dramatically increase speed, was originally expected to fly around October 2004. However, in high-speed taxi tests at Edwards AFB, California, the vehicle was damaged. “We actually screwed up the landing gear when we hit a berm,” says Skunk Works vice-president and general manager Frank Cappuccio.

The first flight is scheduled in “around three weeks”, he adds. The MUAV is a proof-of-concept vehicle aimed at demonstrating the feasibility of the morphing technologies involved. These include “smart” thermal polymer actuators and shape-memory polymer skins. Others include flight-control algorithms based on software originally developed for the F-35 lift-fan control system.

“It’s a going proposition,” says Cappuccio, who adds: “We believe it’s five to six years out from being operational.”

Research work on another project, the submarine-launched multipurpose UAV, is also being stepped up following the award of a US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency contract.

Initial work on the concept, which involves both launch and recovery at sea, is aimed at proving the viability of a retrieval system. Lockheed plans to evaluate a robotic system, originally developed by General Dynamics for recovering submersible rescue vehicles, as the basis for the MUAV recovery. Tests using a full-scale forebody section of the proposed 5-6m (16-20ft) span (when unfurled from its tube launcher) vehicle are planned within the next “seven to eight months”, says Cappuccio.

The vehicle is designed to be launched from the missile silos on Trident-class submarines and have a range of around 925km (500nm). “It will be weaponised, but its initial purpose is surveillance,” he adds.

Source: Flight International