Small California aerodynamic design house Xcelaero is working to interest the US Air Force and Navy in a low-cost, high-speed target drone that could be developed into an unmanned air vehicle capable of sprinting to a target area before loitering.

Now on the drawing board, the 80kg (175lb) gross-weight, jet-powered NXT-400 will have a dash speed of 425kt (740km/h) at 20,000ft (6,100m). The vehicle is being offered as a lower-cost alternative to existing subsonic aerial targets, with the ability to fly multi-target formations.

But San Luis Obispo-based Xcelaero also sees a UAV application in providing a littoral over-the-horizon target for the US Navy, offering a vehicle to be launched from a ship before dashing to the target area, loitering and then returning for a parachute recovery. With a 400kt dash and 100kt loiter the vehicle would have a 2h endurance, it says.

Xcelaero, which manufactures high-efficiency fans, is merging with AeroMech Engineering, which builds the Desert Hawk mini-UAV for Lockheed Martin. The company has also built a low-cost drone, the LCAT-200, for Lockheed which has inherent low radar cross-section, enabling it to emulate unique threats.

While the NXT-400 will be powered initially by a pair of model-aircraft jet engines, Xcelaero says it plans to develop its own high-efficiency turbofan engine for its target and UAV designs.

© Tim Bicheno-Brown / Xcelaero   
Xcelaero's NXT-400 will have a dash speed of 425kt at 20,000ft

Source: Flight International