Category Archives: Air

Maiden flight

The second prototype of the NH90 Sea Lion commissioned by the Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support (Bundesamt für Ausrüstung, Informationstechnik und Nutzung der Bundeswehr) lifted off from the Donauwörth site for its maiden flight on 24 November 2017.

Second NH90 Sea Lion prototype completes maiden flight
Second NH90 Sea Lion prototype completes maiden flight

Airbus Helicopters is now entering a development testing phase of several months that will focus on avionics and software. Activities for the qualification of the delivery configuration will start over the course of 2018 once additional modifications have been made to the prototype.

Despite the very demanding timetable, the company is convinced that deliveries to the German Navy will start at the end of 2019. Final assembly of the first Sea Lion series production aircraft also started recently; this will run in parallel to the qualification.



Length 19.56 m/64.18 feet
Width 16.30 m/53.48 feet
Height 5.31 m/17.42 feet
Maximum Gross Weight 10,600 kg/23,369 lbs
Alternate Gross Weight 11,000 kg/24,250 lbs
Empty Weight 6,400 kg/14,109 lbs
Useful Load 4,200 kg/9,260 lbs
Cargo Hook 4,000 kg/8,818 lbs
Single or dual Rescue Hoist 270 kg/595 lbs
Rescue Hoist on ground 400 kg/880 lbs
Crew (2 + 1); 20 troops in full crashworthy or up to 12 strechers
7-Cell Internal System 2,035 kg/4,486 lbs
Internal Auxiliary Fuel Tanks (each) 400 kg/882 lbs
External Auxiliary Fuel Tanks (each) 292 kg/644 lbs
or 500 kg/1,102 lbs
Width 2.00 m/6.56 feet
Length 4.80 m/15.75 feet
Height 1.58 m/5.18 feet
Volume 15.20 m³/536.78 feet³
Sliding doors opening 1.60 × 1.50 m/5.25 × 4.92 feet
Rear ramp opening 1.78 × 1.58 m/5.84 × 5.18 feet
Maximum Cruise Speed 300 km/h/162 knots/186 mph
Economical Cruise Speed 260 km/h/140 knots/162 mph
Maximum Rate of Climb 11.2 m/s/2,200 feet/min
OEI (One Engine Inoperative) Rate of Climb 2 min Rating 4.3 m/s/850 feet/min
OEI Rate of Climb Continuous Rating at 2,000 m/6,560 feet 1.5 m/s/300 feet/min
Hover Ceiling IGE (In Ground Effect) 3,200 m/10,500 feet
Hover Ceiling OGE (Out of Ground Effect) 2,600 m/8,530 feet
Maximum Range 530 NM/610 miles/982 km
Maximum Range with 2,500 kg/5,511 lbs payload 486 NM/559 miles/900 km
Maximum Endurance 5 h
Ferry Range (with Internal Aux Fuel Tanks) 864 NM/994 miles/1,600 km
Twin engine with dual channel FADEC (Full Authority Digital Electronic Control)
Two Turbomecca (RTM 322-01/9 or RTM 322-01/9A enhanced version)
Two General Electric (GE T700/T6E1 or CT7-8F5 enhanced version)
RATING RTM 322-01/9
OEI 30 sec (100%) 2,172 kW/2,913 shp
OEI 2 min 1,855 kW/2,488 shp
OEI Continuous 1,781 kW/2,388 shp
AEO (All Engines Operating) TOP (30 min) (×2) 1,781 kW/2,388 shp
AEO Continuous (×2) 1,664 kW/2,231 shp
OEI 30 sec (100%) 2,095 kW/2,809 shp
OEI 2 min 1,842 kW/2,470 shp
OEI 60 min 1,692 kW/2,269 shp
AEO TOP (30 min) (×2) 1,692 kW/2,269 shp
AEO Continuous (×2) 1,577 kW/2,115 shp
Door mounted pintle machine gun (7.62-mm or 12.7-mm)
Armour protection for cabin (modular)
Self-protection suite

* GE engines with Integrated Particle Separator (IPS)


Third GPS III Satellite

The U.S. Air Force’s third GPS III satellite in production flow at Lockheed Martin’s advanced satellite manufacturing facility here is now fully integrated into a complete space vehicle.

The U.S. Air Force’s third GPS III satellite, GPS III SV03, is now fully integrated and ready to begin environmental tests. Lockheed Martin is in full production on ten contracted GPS III satellites at its GPS III Processing Facility near Denver
The U.S. Air Force’s third GPS III satellite, GPS III SV03, is now fully integrated and ready to begin environmental tests. Lockheed Martin is in full production on ten contracted GPS III satellites at its GPS III Processing Facility near Denver

GPS III Space Vehicle 03 (GPS III SV03) followed the first two GPS III satellites on a streamlined assembly and test production line. Technicians successfully integrated the satellite’s major components – its system module, navigation payload and propulsion core – into one fully-assembled space vehicle on August 14.

GPS III SV03 was assembled in Lockheed Martin’s GPS III Processing Facility, a $128 million, cleanroom factory designed in a virtual reality environment to drive efficiency and reduce costs in satellite production. Now fully assembled, the third satellite is being prepared to begin environmental testing.

GPS III SV03 closely follows the company’s second satellite in production flow. GPS III SV02 completed integration in May, finished acoustic testing in July and moved into thermal vacuum testing in August. The second GPS III satellite is expected to be delivered to the U.S. Air Force in 2018.

The fourth GPS III satellite is close behind the third. Lockheed Martin received the navigation payload for GPS III SV04 in October and the payload is now integrated with the space vehicle. The satellite is expected to be integrated into a complete space vehicle in January 2018.

In August, Lockheed Martin technicians began major assembly work on GPS III SV05.

All of these satellites are following Lockheed Martin’s first GPS III satellite, GPS III SV01, through production flow. In September, the Air Force accepted and declared GPS III SV01 «Available For Launch», with launch expected in 2018.

«GPS III is the most powerful and complex GPS satellite ever designed and built, and it’s now into a smooth production flow. The real credit goes to the Air Force for all the Back to Basics work done in advance, reducing program risk for all the GPS III satellites going forward», said Mark Stewart, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for Navigation Systems. «We are looking forward to bringing GPS III’s advanced capabilities to our warfighters in 2018».

Lockheed Martin is under contract for ten next generation GPS III satellites as part of the Air Force’s modernized Global Positioning System. GPS III will have three times better accuracy and up to eight times improved anti-jamming capabilities. Spacecraft life will extend to 15 years, 25 percent longer than the newest GPS satellites on-orbit today. GPS III’s new L1C civil signal also will make it the first GPS satellite to be interoperable with other international global navigation satellite systems.

Lockheed Martin’s unique GPS III satellite design includes a flexible, modular architecture that allows for the insertion of new technology as it becomes available in the future or if the Air Force’s mission needs change. Satellites based off this design are already proven compatible with both the Air Force’s next generation Operational Control System (OCX) and the existing GPS constellation.

The GPS III team is led by the Global Positioning Systems Directorate at the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. Air Force Space Command’s 2nd Space Operations Squadron (2SOPS), based at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, manages and operates the GPS constellation for both civil and military users.

Demo Flight

Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) and Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, hosted a ‘first of its kind’ orientation flight in the CH-53K King Stallion for Brigadier General Nir Nin-Nun, Israeli Air Force, Commander, Air Support and Helicopter Division, during a test flight November 7.

Israeli General Given Demo Flight on CH-53K Helicopter
Israeli General Given Demo Flight on CH-53K Helicopter

The 90-minute orientation flight included various operational maneuvers, landings and takeoffs, providing Nin-Nun a firsthand look at the unique and capabilities of the CH-53K King Stallion available through full authority fly-by-wire flight controls.

«This is the first time we have flown an international ally in the CH-53K», said U.S. Marine Corps Colonel Hank Vanderborght, program manager for the H-53 Heavy Lift Helicopters program office, PMA-261. «Flights like this give us an opportunity to strengthen relationships with our allies while sharing a taste of America’s next generation heavy lift helicopter».

The flight was arranged based on a government-to-government request from Brig. Gen. Nin-Nun and made possible through a contract modification between Sikorsky and NAVAIR.

«It was a great honor being hosted by the Marines and having a chance to fly on two outstanding platforms as we ramp up to decide on our future heavy lift», said Nin-Nun.

The orientation flight was conducted during an already planned test flight and piloted by Stephen McCulley, Sikorsky chief experimental test pilot. Prior to the flight, Brigadier General Nin-Nun completed a familiarization flight in the simulator and safety brief prior to take-off.

The two-day visit also included simulator flights, relevant program briefs, and a tour of the NAVAIR Internal Cargo Lab.

Currently, there are four Engineering Development and Manufacturing Model aircraft in test and one Ground Test Vehicle, which have logged more than 606 cumulative flight hours. Initial operational capability remains on pace for 2019 and is defined as having four aircraft, with combat-ready crews logistically prepared to deploy. The DOD’s program of record remains at 200 aircraft.

PMA-261 continually works with international partners through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program to potentially meet the international partners’ heavy lift helicopter requirements. FMS aircraft increase the total aircraft procured above the program of record and will decrease the unit cost for all users.

With more than triple the payload capability and a 12-inch/30.5-cm wider internal cabin than its predecessor (CH-53E Super Stallion), the CH-53K’s payload capability can take the form of a variety of relevant payloads ranging from an internally loaded High Mobility, Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle or the European Fennek armored personnel carrier. In addition, it can handle up to three independent external loads at once, which gives mission flexibility and system efficiency.


General Characteristics

Number of Engines 3
Engine Type T408-GE-400
T408 Engine 7,500 shp/5,595 kw
Maximum Gross Weight (Internal Load) 74,000 lbs/33,566 kg
Maximum Gross Weight (External Load) 88,000 lbs/39,916 kg
Cruise Speed 141 knots/162 mph/261 km/h
Range 460 NM/530 miles/852 km
AEO* Service Ceiling 14,380 feet/4,383 m
HIGE** Ceiling (MAGW) 13,630 feet/4,155 m
HOGE*** Ceiling (MAGW) 10,080 feet/3,073 m
Cabin Length 30 feet/9.1 m
Cabin Width 9 feet/2.7 m
Cabin Height 6.5 feet/2.0 m
Cabin Area 264.47 feet2/24.57 m2
Cabin Volume 1,735.36 feet3/49.14 m3

* All Engines Operating

** Hover Ceiling In Ground Effect

*** Hover Ceiling Out of Ground Effect

Free-Flight test

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) announces a successful atmospheric Free-Flight test of its Dream Chaser spacecraft, signaling the program is another achievement closer to orbital operations.

The Dream Chaser landing after the Free-Flight test at Edwards AFB, CA on Saturday, November 11
The Dream Chaser landing after the Free-Flight test at Edwards AFB, CA on Saturday, November 11

The full-scale Dream Chaser test vehicle was lifted from a Columbia Helicopters Model 234-UT Chinook helicopter on Saturday, released and flew a pre-planned flight path ending with an autonomous landing on Runway 22L at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), California.

«The Dream Chaser flight test demonstrated excellent performance of the spacecraft’s aerodynamic design and the data shows that we are firmly on the path for safe, reliable orbital flight», said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s Space System business area.

The first orbital vehicle is scheduled to go to the International Space Station as soon as 2020 for at least six missions as part of NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2 contract (CRS2). The missions will supply astronauts with much needed supplies and technical support elements and enable the gentle return of scientific experiments. The test vehicle was originally developed under the Commercial Crew Integrated Capabilities agreement (CCiCap).

«The Dream Chaser spacecraft today has proven its atmospheric flight performance along with its return and landing capability. This advances our program and the Dream Chaser towards orbital flight, while meeting the final milestone for our NASA CCiCap agreement and supporting milestone 5 of the CRS2 contract», Sirangelo added.

The test verified and validated the performance of the Dream Chaser spacecraft in the final approach and landing phase of flight, modeling a successful return from the space station.  Most critically, by flying the same flight path that would be used returning from orbit, this free-flight proves the highly important landing attributes needed to bring back science and experiments from the space station.

SNC and NASA will evaluate information from the test, including the Dream Chaser aerodynamic and integrated system performance from 12,400 feet/3,780 meters altitude through main landing gear touchdown, nose landing gear touchdown and final rollout to wheel-stop on the runway. The Edwards Air Force Base runway is very similar to the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility runway that Dream Chaser will land on for CRS2 flights.

This approach and landing test expands on phase one flight testing, with key differences including adding specific program test inputs into the trajectory, which helps the engineers refine the aerodynamic characteristics of the vehicle. Saturday’s test also included orbital vehicle avionics and flight software for the first time, providing orbital vehicle design validation.

«I’m so proud of the Dream Chaser team for their continued excellence. This spacecraft is the future and has the ability to change the way humans interact with space, and I couldn’t be happier with SNC’s dedicated team and the results of the test», said Fatih Ozmen, CEO of SNC.

The Dream Chaser has been at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center since January undergoing a variety of tests in preparation for the Free-Flight. The spacecraft used the same historic hangar occupied by the Enterprise Shuttle.

The First Triton

Northrop Grumman Corp. delivered the first operational MQ-4C Triton aircraft to the U.S. Navy facility at Point Mugu, providing the service with unparalleled endurance and 360-degree coverage that allows for a vastly expanded maritime Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) mission.

The first operational MQ-4C Triton comes in for a landing at Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu, on November 9 (Photo credit: U.S. Navy)
The first operational MQ-4C Triton comes in for a landing at Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu, on November 9 (Photo credit: U.S. Navy)

«This aircraft represents the beginning of a new era for Naval aviation», said Doug Shaffer, vice president, Triton programs, Northrop Grumman. «Triton is a high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned system that delivers a critical autonomous capability to the Navy, expanding the service’s maritime patrol mission. We are proud to be a part of this historic program».

Northrop Grumman is expected to deliver the second operational Triton aircraft later this year. Naval Base Ventura County Point Mugu is home to the maintenance detachment of Unmanned Patrol Squadron (VUP)19. Maintainers will prepare the first two operational Triton aircraft for its employment to Guam, scheduled next year. VUP-19, the U.S. Navy’s first unmanned patrol squadron, is based at Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville, Florida. Pilots and operators will fly the unmanned Triton aircraft from NAS Jacksonville.

The Navy has announced plans to deploy Triton to NAS Mayport, Florida, NAS Sigonella, Italy and the Middle East in the future.

Flying upwards of 55,000 feet/16,764 meters for up to 24 hours at a time, Triton provides unprecedented, persistent 360-degree maritime domain awareness through vessel detection, classification and tracking. Triton aircraft can combine to fly an orbit, with one plane on station and another en route, providing the U.S. Navy with near-constant coverage of huge swaths of ocean and littorals. The program of record ultimately calls for Northrop Grumman to deliver 68 aircraft to the U.S. Navy.


MQ-4C Triton

Northrop Grumman’s MQ-4C Triton Unmanned Aircraft System provides real-time Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance over vast ocean and coastal regions. Supporting missions up to 24 hours, the high-altitude UAS is equipped with a sensor suite that provides a 360-degree view of its surroundings at a radius of over 2,000 NM/2,302 miles/3,704 km.

Triton builds on elements of the Global Hawk UAS while incorporating reinforcements to the airframe and wing, along with de-icing and lightning protection systems. These capabilities allow the aircraft to descend through cloud layers to gain a closer view of ships and other targets at sea when needed. The current sensor suite allows ships to be tracked over time by gathering information on their speed, location and classification.

Built to support the U.S. Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance program, Triton will support a wide range of intelligence gathering and reconnaissance missions, maritime patrol and search and rescue. The Navy’s program of record calls for 68 aircraft to be built.


Key Features

  • Provides persistent maritime ISR at a mission radius of 2,000 NM/2,302 miles/3,704 km; 24 hours/7 days per week with 80% Effective Time On Station (ETOS)
  • Land-based air vehicle and sensor command and control
  • Afloat Level II payload sensor data via line-of-sight
  • Dual redundant flight controls and surfaces
  • 51,000-hour airframe life
  • Due Regard Radar for safe separation
  • Anti/de-ice, bird strike, and lightning protection
  • Communications bandwidth management
  • Commercial off-the-shelf open architecture mission control system
  • Net-ready interoperability solution


Payload (360-degree Field of Regard)

Multi-Function Active Sensor Active Electronically Steered Array (MFAS AESA) radar:

  • 2D AESA;
  • Maritime and air-to-ground modes;
  • Long-range detection and classification of targets.

MTS-B multi-spectral targeting system:

  • Electro-optical/infrared;
  • Auto-target tracking;
  • High resolution at multiple field-of-views;
  • Full motion video.

AN/ZLQ-1 Electronic Support Measures:

  • All digital;
  • Specific Emitter Identification.

Automatic Identification System:

  • Provides information received from VHF broadcasts on maritime vessel movements.



Wingspan 130.9 feet/39.9 m
Length 47.6 feet/14.5 m
Height 15.4 feet/4.6 m
Gross Take-Off Weight (GTOW) 32,250 lbs/14,628 kg
Maximum Internal Payload 3,200 lbs/1,452 kg
Maximum External Payload 2,400 lbs/1,089 kg
Self-Deploy 8,200 NM/9,436 miles/15,186 km
Maximum Altitude 56,500 feet/17,220 m
Maximum Velocity, TAS (True Air Speed) 331 knots/381 mph/613 km/h
Maximum Endurance 24 hours


Sunshield Deployment

Northrop Grumman Corporation, which designed NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s (JWST) optics, spacecraft bus, and sunshield for NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, has deployed the sunshield subsystem and fully tensioned the five sunshield layers for the first time.

At Northrop Grumman highbay facilities in Redondo Beach, California, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s five sunshield layers are fully tensioned for the first time
At Northrop Grumman highbay facilities in Redondo Beach, California, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s five sunshield layers are fully tensioned for the first time

«The first tensioning of the sunshield is a monumental and exciting moment, not only for the program but for the collaborative JWST team», said Scott Willoughby, vice president and program manager, James Webb Space Telescope, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems «The innovative sunshield is an industry first, and will protect Webb’s optics from heat, making it possible to gather images of the formation of the first stars and galaxies more than 13.5 billion years ago».

In space, the sunshield subsystem divides the JWST observatory into a warm sun-facing side and a cold space-facing side comprised of the optics and scientific instruments. The sunshield subsystem, which includes the structure and mechanisms required for deploying the five-layer subsystem, was designed, manufactured and assembled by Northrop Grumman, with the five membrane layers manufactured by the NeXolve Corporation in Huntsville, Alabama.

The flight membranes will be folded, stowed and tensioned again two additional times for testing. The folding and stowing method is how the membranes will be folded and stowed for launch. The sunshield layers, known for being the size of a tennis court, will protect and prevent the background heat from the Sun, Earth and Moon from interfering with JWST’s infrared sensors.

The sunshield layers, each as thin as a human hair, work together to reduce the temperatures between the hot and cold sides of the observatory by approximately 570 degrees Fahrenheit. Moving from the sun-facing layer to the one closest to the telescope, each successive layer of the sunshield, which is made of Kapton, is cooler than the one below. The sunshield, along with the rest of the spacecraft, will fold origami-style into an Ariane 5 rocket.

The James Webb Space Telescope, the scientific complement to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, will be the premier space observatory of the next decade. Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

Thai Lakota

In 2014, the Royal Thai Army acquired six UH-72A Lakota helicopters from Airbus Group through the US’s foreign military sales programme. After receiving training and in-country support, the Lakotas’ first two years in operation have gone smoothly, an example of hard work and dedicated personnel.

RTA Lakotas enter service without a hitch
RTA Lakotas enter service without a hitch

The Royal Thai Army (RTA) is Thailand’s largest military branch. In addition to conventional military undertakings, its airborne arm is responsible for Emergency Medical Services (EMS), evacuation, reconnaissance and utility services. Its rotorcraft fleet comprises a variety of makes, many of which – as in the case of its Vietnam-era Huey helicopters – are in need of replacement.

To this end, the RTA acquired six new Lakota helicopters from Airbus’ North American division, Airbus Helicopters, Inc., in 2014. For the army’s pilots, like Captain Pongsaton, the commander of the RTA who has experience on the older helicopters, the new aircraft offer a distinct advantage. «The Lakota is very easy to fly. We mainly fly utility, transporting equipment to the mountains or jungle, and we need to take off in confined areas. The Lakota’s instruments and autopilot systems help us avoid obstacles».

The RTA’s purchase of the Lakotas came with a unique support set-up: five weeks of training for pilots and maintenance personnel at the division’s headquarters in Grand Prairie, Texas, followed by support in the form of one field service and one logistics representative in Thailand.

«The RTA saw that in-country support was needed because it was the first time they had acquired this type of helicopter», says Chong Eu Chuah, the contractor field service representative (CFSR) from Airbus. «My role is part of Airbus’ support guarantee to ensure a smooth entry into service for the Lakotas in Thailand».

Originally a technician at Airbus Singapore, Chuah trained for a month in Texas along with Chong Siew Fwai, the Contractor Logistics Service Rep (CLSR). They joined a group of six RTA pilots and ten technicians who would complete theory and simulator instruction, as well as flight training on the UH-72A. In all, 18 pilots and 30 technicians trained through the programme. «We got to know our future colleagues well, as well as setting up lines of communication», says Chuah. «By the time the aircraft arrived in-country we were ready to assume our duties».

In Thailand, Chuah’s responsibilities vary from troubleshooting and on-the-job training, to supporting maintenance or supplying technical assistance at one of the RTA’s five bases – Phitsanulok, Lopburi, Roi Et, Bangkok, and Nakkon Si Thammarat. «For troubleshooting, I normally drive to the sites», he says. «If it is too far (Nakhon Si Thammarat is 900 km/559 miles from Lopburi), I travel by commercial airlines. It is a tiring job but we show commitment to our customer».

Speaking for the RTA’s technical staff, one mechanic offered the comment, «The RTA’s missions cannot be carried out if we don’t have perfect maintenance and a great contribution from the US Army and Airbus Helicopters in sending someone who is an expert».

On the logistics side, Chong Siew Fwai set up a warehouse and inventory of Lakota spares, equipment and tools. Based in Bangkok, he handles purchase orders, equipment loans, parts shipments, and consults on nearly all logistics issues that come up with the new Lakotas.

The entry into service was not without a snag. «During the initial entry into service, we faced some avionics problems, possibly due to humidity during the sea journey from the USA coupled with the rainy season in Thailand», says Chuah. However, with time, his help has shifted from problem-solving to supplying hand’s on – or even remote – training. «As the mechanics gain more experience, I do not travel to the sites as often. I can provide instructions, drawings, photos and video through smartphone».

During their two years in operation, the RTA’s Lakotas have seen an availability rate of 100% when the aircraft are not scheduled for maintenance. «We selected the Lakota for use as a utility helicopter», says one pilot, speaking on behalf of his colleagues. «We like the UH-72A because it is large, comfortable and easy to fly. It’s almost too powerful when hovering into a nose wind and very stable with low vibration».

Behind the Lakotas’ success is a team of dedicated people. «Chong Siew Fwai and I stayed on in Grand Prairie after the type course training to meet key personnel at Airbus in the technical support and logistics departments», says Chuah. «It is easier to help someone you know than a total stranger. I believe these are the reasons for the Lakotas’ smooth entry into service».

Airbus Lakota helicopter enters Thai Army service
Airbus Lakota helicopter enters Thai Army service

Aircraft survivability

Lockheed Martin received a $12 million contract from the U.S. Army to develop a Multi-Modal Sensor Fusion (MMSF) testbed for rotary-wing aircraft.

Lockheed Martin’s Multi-Modal Sensor Fusion solution blends data from multiple sensors to restore the pilot’s situational awareness in degraded visual environments
Lockheed Martin’s Multi-Modal Sensor Fusion solution blends data from multiple sensors to restore the pilot’s situational awareness in degraded visual environments

Under the service’s Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate (NVESD), the company is developing sensor fusion and integration technologies that enhance rotary-wing aircraft survivability and enable pilots to navigate safely in all environments, even when GPS is unavailable. The MMSF algorithms blend data from multiple sensor types to restore a pilot’s situational awareness in Degraded Visual Environments (DVEs).

«Current Lockheed Martin fire control systems enable pilots to own the night», said Paul Lemmo, vice president of Fire Control/Special Operations Forces Global Logistics Support Services (SOF CLSS) at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. «Our next-generation MMSF technology will help them own the environment as well. Our work with NVESD and other DVE stakeholders will enable helicopter aircrews to operate more safely and effectively in even the most challenging visual environments».

During the 40-month effort, Lockheed Martin engineers will integrate government-furnished sensors in a reconfigurable, open-architecture testbed that supports the development of DVE systems for rotary-wing aircraft. Other activities include refining multi-modal fusion techniques and real-time 3-D mapping, and implementing symbols and cues for pilot sensor displays.

MMSF blends sensor data to generate real-time 3-D terrain maps of the area around the aircraft – maps that can identify and highlight obstacles to improve situational awareness for pilots, mission commanders and other platforms. Potential recipients of such capabilities include existing Army helicopters and Future Vertical Lift solutions.

Next-Generation Sensor

Lockheed Martin received $337 million in orders to supply Apache Modernized Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sensor (M‑TADS/PNVS) systems and services to the United States, United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Lockheed Martin delivering next-generation Apache Sensor Systems under new U.S. army contract (Photo credit: Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed Martin delivering next-generation Apache Sensor Systems under new U.S. army contract (Photo credit: Lockheed Martin)

The awards are part of an initial task order under a new Indefinite-Delivery/Indefinite-Quantity (ID/IQ) contract signed with the U.S. Army. The ID/IQ, with at least $2 billion in potential orders and a five-year period of performance, serves as the contracting vehicle to provide M‑TADS/PNVS systems and services to U.S. and international customers.

«Lockheed Martin is committed to a strong and sustained partnership with our customers in the United States and around the world», said Paul Lemmo, vice president of Fire Control/Special Operations Forces Contractor Logistics Support Services at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. «This contract enables us to respond rapidly to their emerging defense needs, including requirements for new M-TADS/PNVS systems and upgrades».

Under an order for the U.S. Army, Lockheed Martin is providing upgrade kits for the M‑TADS/PNVS Modernized Day Sensor Assembly (M-DSA) and Modernized Laser Range Finder Designator. For the U.K. Ministry of Defence, it is delivering M-DSA upgrade kits for M-TADS/PNVS refurbishment as part of a remanufacture effort to upgrade D-model Apaches to E models. For the Saudi Ministry of National Guard, it is providing M‑TADS/PNVS systems for new E-model Apaches.

M-TADS/PNVS, known as the «eyes of the Apache», provides pilots with long-range, precision engagement and pilotage capabilities for safe flight during day, night and adverse weather missions. M-DSA increases M-TADS/PNVS designation and ranging capabilities to fully accommodate current weapons and those planned for the future. The upgraded sensor enables Apache pilots to see high-resolution, high-definition, near-infrared and color imagery on cockpit displays. M-DSA also provides a new laser pointer marker that improves coordination with ground troops, and an updated multi-mode laser with eye-safe range designation that supports flight in urban environments and critical training exercises.

Autonomous Guidance

In line with its strategy of innovation for the future of vertical flight, Airbus Helicopters is developing an experimental on board image processing management system aimed at performing automatic approaches and landing in challenging conditions, as well as paving the way for future sense & avoid applications on autonomous Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) systems.

Project Eagle aims at improving safety and automation capabilities for existing and future platforms
Project Eagle aims at improving safety and automation capabilities for existing and future platforms

Codenamed Eagle, for Eye for Autonomous Guidance and Landing Extension, this system federates the entire helicopter’s image processing functions and feeds them into the avionics system, thus improving the crew’s situation awareness and reducing the pilot’s workload by automating and securing approaches, take-off and landing in the most demanding environments. Ground tests of Eagle have been ongoing since May this year and initial flights tests on a testbed helicopter will begin shortly.

«While existing missions such as search and rescue and offshore transportation will benefit from Eagle’s capabilities, the system will also help address future requirements for operations in urban environments», said Tomasz Krysinski, Airbus Helicopters Vice-President Research & Technology. «Ultimately, thanks to its ability to provide increased situation awareness, Eagle will also contribute to improve the safety, autonomy and performance of future unmanned vehicles».

The system, which could be embedded in a variety of existing and future Airbus VTOL vehicles, relies on a gyro-stabilized optronics package, which includes three high resolution cameras and state-of-the-art processing units, as well as on-board video analytics providing advanced functionalities such as object detection and tracking, digital noise reduction as well as deep learning.

Future versions of the Eagle system will also integrate a laser, which combined with the high processing capability could open the door to other applications such as a new generation of search lights, obstacles detection and 3D terrain reconstruction.