THE US NAVY has notified industry that it will conduct a demonstration of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned air vehicles which might eventually supplement or replace the Alliant Techsystems Outrider Tactical UAV.

USN consideration of a maritime VTOL UAV was shelved five years ago because of budget constraints. Interest has been rekindled, however, because of a funding windfall and growing interest within naval circles in a VTOL UAV.

The UAV Joint Programme Office says that it will conduct a competition to execute a land-based VTOL UAV flight-test demonstration project involving one or more off-the-shelf UAVs. Contract options include integration and test with the UAV Common Automatic Recovery System (UCARS) and Tactical Control System and sea-based flight tests.

"Given the schedule and funding constraints, it is not the intent of the Government to enter into a Government-funded development programme. Instead, the intent of this programme is to evaluate the flight-test performance of VTOL UAV systems essentially in existence at the time of contract award," says the USN.

Congressional backers of the substantially improved Bombardier Canadair CL-227 Sentinel, dubbed the Puma, had added $15 million to the US Department of Defense's fiscal year 1997 budget to test the drone further. The Pentagon instead won permission to use the funding to conduct a competitive trial of VTOL UAVs.

Bell Helicopter is expected to offer its Eagle Eye tilt-rotor UAV in a fly-off which is likely to include the Puma. Boeing's Heliwing tail-sitter UAV may not be available. Dasa Dornier's SEAMOS UAV is being demonstrated to the German navy, and a test article is not expected to be available to participate in the USN-sponsored VTOL UAV flight trials. Meanwhile, several smaller US companies are considering bids.

Source: Flight International