Alenia Aeronautica has flown its Sky-X unmanned air vehicle (UAV) demonstrator for the first time, and the Italian company believes the concept will provide vital experience for the company's involvement in the European Neuron multirole UAV programme.
Sky-X was flown on 29 May from Vidsel air base in Sweden, piloted from a simulator-style ground control station (GCS) in a mobile unit at the base. It is the first European complex UAV weighing more than 1,000kg (2,200lb).
It was built at Alenia's Caselle plant near Turin in Italy and was flown just 18 months after the project's initial definition. Both Sky-X and the GCS are on display at Paris.
"We are very pleased because the development time up to first flight was quite short. Our aim is to complete this first phase for the expansion of the flight envelope before the end of the year," says Alessandro Franzoni, Alenia Aeronautica's chief financial officer.
A further 20-25 flights are planned for 2005, before testing switches to payload-carrying flights. Some of the payload equipment will be provided by Alenia sister companies within the Finmeccanica group, including Galileo, Selex and Selenia Communications, says Franzoni.
The Sky-X is about 7m (23ft) long and has a wing span of almost 6m. It can carry a technological pay-load of 200kg with a maximum take-off weight of 1,100kg. It is a multirole UAV, suitable for surveillance, communications or combat missions. Power comes from a Snecma Micoturbo TRI60-268 jet engine. It is a modular design that can be reconfigured, for example as a tailless delta.
Effectively it is a roughly 50% scale model of the sort of UAV that Neuron will become once the project has been finalised. It is scheduled to make its first flight by 2010.
Six countries - France, Greece, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland - are participating in Neuron. The project is led by Dassault Aviation, which has 50% of the programme. Alenia Aeronautica has a 20% workshare, and leads six other participating Italian companies in the project.
In July, the Neuron participants will start a joint concept definition phase. "It's very interesting because while we develop the Sky-X concept it's likely that we will also develop advanced tools for designing and for integrating the engineering data on Neuron," says Franzoni.
Alenia estimates the European market for UAVs of this type will be worth around Û2 billion ($2.4 billion) by 2010, and the global market will be worth Û40 billion-Û50 billion between 2010-30.
Source: Flight Daily News