Category Archives: Air

Liberty Lifter project

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has launched the Liberty Lifter project to demonstrate a leap in operational logistics capabilities by designing, building, and flying a long-range, low-cost X-plane capable of seaborne strategic and tactical lift. The new vehicle concept seeks to expand upon existing cargo aircraft by proving revolutionary heavy air lift abilities from the sea.

Liberty Lifter project
Liberty Lifter Aims to Revolutionize Heavy Air Lift: large seaplane concept envisions extended operations, affordable production, advanced controls

The envisioned plane will combine fast and flexible strategic lift of very large, heavy loads with the ability to take off/land in water. Its structure will enable both highly controlled flight close to turbulent water surfaces and sustained flight at mid-altitudes. In addition, the plane will be built with a low-cost design and construction philosophy.

Although current sealift is very efficient in transporting large amounts of payload, it is vulnerable to threats, requires functional ports, and results in long transit times. Traditional airlift is much faster, but has limited ability to support maritime operations. Additionally, today, such aircraft suffer payload limitations or require long runways.

There is a history of attempting to develop aircraft created to fly with «wing-in-ground effect», which means the aircraft is flying no more than the length of its wingspan above ground or water. The most well-known examples are the Soviet «ekranoplans». These vehicles were high speed and runway-independent, but were restricted to calm waters and had limited maneuverability.

«This first phase of the Liberty Lifter program will define the unique seaplane’s range, payloads, and other parameters», said Alexander Walan, a program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. «Innovative advances envisioned by this new DARPA program will showcase an X-plane demonstrator that offers warfighters new capabilities during extended maritime operations».

To address the shortcomings of existing vehicles and operational concepts, the Liberty Lifter program focuses on addressing three main challenges.

Extended Maritime Operations: Emphasis will be placed on operating in turbulent sea states by creating high-lift abilities at low speeds to reduce wave impact load during takeoff/landing, and innovative design solutions to absorb wave forces. In addition, the project will address risks of vehicle collision during high-speed operation in congested environments. Finally, the aim is for the vehicle to operate at sea for weeks at a time without land-based maintenance activities.

Full-Scale Affordable Production: Construction will prioritize low-cost, easy-to-fabricate designs over exquisite, low-weight concepts. Materials should be more affordable than those in traditional aircraft manufacturing and available to be purchased in large quantities.

Complex Flight and Sea Surface Controls: Advanced sensors and control schemes will be developed to avoid large waves and to handle aero/hydro-dynamic interactions during takeoff/landing.

The Liberty Lifter program aims to design, build, float, and fly an affordable, innovative, and disruptive seaplane that operates efficiently in ground effect (less than 100 feet/30.5 meters above surface), can sustain flight altitudes up to 10,000 feet/3,048 meters Mean Sea Level (MSL), and enables efficient theater-range transport of large payloads at speeds far exceeding existing sea lift platforms. Liberty Lifter will use low-cost manufacturing akin to ship fabrication in building a highly innovative seaplane capable of meeting Department of Defense (DoD) heavy lift requirements (100+ tons/200,000+ lbs.) that operates with runway and port independence.

Rapid Response Weapon

A U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress successfully released an AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon, or ARRW, off the Southern California coast, May 14.

Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW)
Air Force conducts successful hypersonic weapon test

Following separation from the aircraft, the ARRW’s booster ignited and burned for expected duration, achieving hypersonic speeds five times greater than the speed of sound.

«This was a major accomplishment by the ARRW team, for the weapons enterprise, and our Air Force», said Brigadier General Heath Collins, Air Force Program Executive Officer for Weapons. «The team’s tenacity, expertise, and commitment were key in overcoming the past year’s challenges to get us to the recent success. We are ready to build on what we’ve learned and continue moving hypersonics forward».

The 419th Flight Test Squadron (FLTS) and the Global Power Bomber Combined Test Force, or GPB CTF, both at Edwards Air Force Base, California, executed the test.

«The test team made sure we executed this test flawlessly», said Lieutenant Colonel Michael Jungquist, 419th FLTS commander and GPB CTF director. «Our highly-skilled team made history on this first air-launched hypersonic weapon. We’re doing everything we can to get this game-changing weapon to the warfighter as soon as possible».

ARRW is designed to enable the U.S. to hold fixed, high-value, time-sensitive targets at risk in contested environments from stand-off distances. It will also expand precision-strike capabilities by enabling rapid response strikes against heavily defended land targets.

First Red Hawk

Boeing has unveiled the first T-7A Red Hawk advanced trainer jet to be delivered to the U.S. Air Force. The jet, one of 351 the U.S. Air Force plans to order, was unveiled prior to official delivery.

T-7A Red Hawk
The first T-7A Red Hawk advanced trainer has rolled out of the production facility in St. Louis, Missouri. Ushering in a new era of training for U.S. Air Force fighter and bomber pilots. The jets have red tails to honor the legendary Tuskegee Airmen who flew their aircraft with red tails during World War II. First jets scheduled to arrive at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph next year (Photo Credit- Eric Shindelbower)

The fully digitally designed aircraft was built and tested using advanced manufacturing, agile software development and digital engineering technology significantly reducing the time from design to first flight. The aircraft also features open architecture software, providing growth and flexibility to meet future mission needs.

«We’re excited and honored to deliver this digitally advanced, next-generation trainer to the U.S. Air Force», said Ted Colbert, president and CEO, Boeing Defense, Space & Security. «This aircraft is a tangible example of how Boeing, its suppliers and partners are leading the digital engineering revolution. T-7A Red Hawk will prepare pilots for future missions for decades to come».

The T-7A Red Hawk incorporates a red-tailed livery in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. These airmen made up the first African American aviation unit to serve in the U.S. military.

«The Tuskegee Airmen are one of the most celebrated units in our Air Force history, and the T-7A Red Hawk honors the bravery and skill of these trailblazers», said Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., Chief of Staff of the Air Force. «Like the Airmen they were named and painted to pay homage to, the T-7A Red Hawks break down the barriers of flight. These digitally-engineered aircraft will make it possible for a diverse cross section of future fighter and bomber pilots to be trained, and provide an advanced training system and capabilities that will meet the demands of today’s and tomorrow’s national security environment».

The aircraft will remain in St. Louis where it will undergo ground and flight tests before being delivered to the U.S. Air Force. The T-7A Red Hawk program resides at Boeing’s St. Louis facility with the aft section of the trainer being built by Saab in Linkoping, Sweden. Saab will soon start producing that section at their new production facility in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Maritime Radar onto MQ-9

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) has integrated the Leonardo Seaspray 7500E V2 multi-mode radar onto an MQ-9A Block 5 Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) and performed its first test flight on April 14, 2021. The maritime-focused radar is also being fitted for the MQ-9B SeaGuardian RPA.

MQ-9B SeaGuardian RPA
GA-ASI Integrates Leonardo Seaspray V2 Maritime Radar onto MQ-9

«The benefits of this Maritime Patrol Radar (MPR) in the complex littoral and maritime Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) environment will add world-class situational awareness for our RPA», said GA-ASI Vice President of International Strategic Development Robert Schoeffling.

Designed and manufactured in Edinburgh, UK, the Leonardo 7500E V2 radar is the latest variant of the highly successful Seaspray Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar family, featuring updated processor and receiver technology to meet the evolving demands of the ISR mission set. The 7500E V2 is the largest and most capable Seaspray AESA radar and enhances the operationally proven 7500E.

The Seaspray greatly enhances the capabilities of GA-ASI RPA and builds on the already close working partnership between GA-ASI and Leonardo.

Tony Innes, VP Sales, Radar and Advanced Targeting at Leonardo said, «GA-ASI are an important partner and I’m delighted to see our joint projects generating interest in the market. Seaspray’s long-range, wide-area maritime and ground surveillance capability makes it an ideal fit for the MQ-9A and MQ-9B. The V2 offers significant range increases for certain critical modes, improved maritime detection and the ability to handle a high number of targets, while improving on its already-capable over-land mode suite».

Initial Operational Capability

Deputy Commandant for Aviation Lieutenant General Mark Wise announced the Marine Corps has achieved Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in the CH-53K King Stallion on April 22, 2022. This plan supports General Berger’s Force Design 2030 by improving capabilities and restructuring Marine Corps aviation for the future fight.

CH-53K King Stallion
Marine Corps declares Initial Operational Capability for CH-53K King Stallion

In addition to meeting IOC criteria, the CH-53K King Stallion successfully completed a thorough initial operational test and evaluation period that resulted in over 3,000 mishap free hours flown in various challenging environments and terrain.

«My full confidence in the CH-53K’s ability to execute the heavy lift mission is the result of successful developmental and operational testing conducted by Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (HX) 21 and Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron (VMX) 1», said Wise.

The CH-53K King Stallion is an optimized vertical, heavy lift, sea-based, long-range solution for the naval force and will immediately provide nearly three times the lift capability of the CH-53E Super Stallion, with the ability to transport one hundred percent of the vertical Marine Air-Ground Task Force. Per the Commandant’s Force Design 2030 Annual Update, the CH-53K King Stallion will complement connectors that will enable littoral maneuver and provide logistical support to a widely disaggregated naval force.

«The success to date of the CH-53K King Stallion is a reflection of the hard work and effort by the Marines, sailors, and civilians at VMX-1, H-53 Program Office (PMA-261), and Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 461, and the support we have received over many years from across the Department of the Navy and our industry partners», said Wise.

The CH-53K King Stallion boasts an engine that produces 57% more horsepower with 63% fewer parts relative to its predecessor, which translates to an expanded capability to deliver internal and external cargo loads, providing the commander a mobility and sustainment capability the MAGTF has never had before.

The most notable attribute of the CH-53K King Stallion is its ability to maintain increased performance margins in a degraded aeronautical environment, for example at higher altitudes, hotter climates and carrying up to 27,000 lbs./12,247 kg out to 110 nautical miles/127 miles/204 km; whereas, the CH-53E Super Stallion would be limited to a 9,628-pound/4,367-kg external load in the same environment.

The Marine Corps plans to deploy the first CH-53K King Stallion Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) detachment in fiscal year 2024, setting the initial conditions for sustained CH-53K King Stallion deployments in support of MEUs.

 

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

 

eXtra Performance Wing

Airbus has completed wind-tunnel testing of its eXtra Performance Wing demonstrator in its quest to quickly test and accelerate new technologies that will decarbonise the aviation industry.

eXtra Performance Wing
The eXtra Performance Wing demonstrator will use a Cessna Citation VII business jet platform

The eXtra Performance Wing project, launched last September, takes inspiration from nature to improve wing aerodynamics and performance that is intended to be compatible with any future aircraft configuration and propulsion system to reduce CO₂ emissions.

«The scaled demonstrator will integrate and fly breakthrough wing technologies using a remote-controlled Cessna Citation VII business jet platform in representative flight conditions», explained Oliver Family, Head of eXtra Performance Wing UK.

«The partly 3D-printed wind-tunnel model – expertly built by the aerodynamics team at Airbus’ low-speed, wind-tunnel facility in Bristol – is a scaled-down version of the Cessna jet, incorporating the lightweight, long-span design of the eXtra Performance Wing that will provide the emissions benefits we are striving for».

Initially introduced at a smaller scale through another Airbus project, AlbatrossONE, which tested semi-aeroelastic hinged wings that – like the seabird – unlocked during flight when experiencing wind gusts or turbulence, the eXtra Performance Wing will also examine onboard technologies, like gust sensors, pop-up spoilers and multifunctional trailing edges, to enable the active control of the wing.

«Airbus’ state-of-the-art low-speed wind-tunnel is a fantastic way to validate our concepts before flight tests», added Oliver Family. «Our computational aerodynamic analysis capability is world class, and the wind tunnel provides another valuable way to measure the performance and capabilities of the aircraft before flight testing. The technologies we have tested in the Filton wind tunnel – many inspired by biomimicry – will now be rapidly integrated for flight testing».

The Airbus low-speed wind tunnel at Filton, near Bristol, replicates conditions similar to aircraft take-off and landing wind speeds but is also used by external organisations testing F1 cars, ship radar systems, Urban Air Mobility vehicles as well as more conventional aircraft.

The eXtra Performance Wing demonstrator is hosted within Airbus UpNext, a wholly-owned Airbus subsidiary, created to give future technologies a development fast-track by building demonstrators at speed and scale in order to evaluate, mature and validate potential new products and services that encompass radical technological breakthroughs.

NATO AGS Force

Northrop Grumman Corporation’s, NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) RQ-4D Phoenix Global Hawk has reached a major milestone with the NATO AGS Management Agency (NAGSMA)’s Full System Handover to the NATO AGS Force (NAGSF) at the Main Operating Base, Sigonella, Sicily. The specially-designed AGS system is uniquely suited to NATO requirements and is providing critical Joint Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) situational awareness to the 30 NATO member countries.

RQ-4D Phoenix Global Hawk
NATO AGS RQ-4D Phoenix Global Hawk

The NATO AGS Full System Handover is comprised of five aircraft, ground and support segments, along with advanced sensor technologies. Since the first of five aircraft arrived at the main operating base in Sigonella, Italy in 2019, operational flight hours have steadily increased, including the recent first 24-hour mission.

«This Full System Handover is an important milestone for the NATO AGS community, government and industry», said Jane Bishop, vice president and general manager, global surveillance, Northrop Grumman. «The NATO AGS system is a force multiplier supporting the Alliance mission of deterring threats and protecting security across NATO member countries».

The RQ-4D Phoenix High-Altitude, Long-Endurance (HALE) system provides ubiquitous and unparalleled Joint ISR data to NATO. The wide area surveillance provided by Global Hawk and the fixed, mobile and transportable ground stations in the system support a range of missions, including: protection of ground troops and civilian populations; border control; crisis management; humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, every day of the year.

Northrop Grumman’s family of autonomous HALE systems, including Global Hawk, is a critical component of networked, global ISR collection for allied nations. Global Hawk collects vital information to enable allied commanders to make informed and rapid decisions to preserve global security.

Northrop Grumman is a technology company, focused on global security and human discovery. Our pioneering solutions equip our customers with capabilities they need to connect, advance and protect the U.S. and its allies. Driven by a shared purpose to solve our customers’ toughest problems, our 90,000 employees define possible every day.

Record 39-Hour Flight

Lockheed Martin Skunk Works demonstrated the expanded endurance capabilities of a specially configured Lockheed Martin Stalker VXE Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) through a world record endurance flight on February 18, 2022, at the Santa Margarita Ranch in California.

Stalker VXE
Lockheed Martin’s Stalker VXE recently completed a world record 39-hour flight

The flight establishes a new record in the Group 2 (5 to <25-kilogram) category with a flight time of 39 hours, 17 minutes and 7 seconds. The flight has been submitted to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), the world sanctioning body for aviation records, through its U.S. affiliate, the National Aeronautic Association, for certification.

A production Stalker VXE was modified for this record-setting flight with an external, wing-mounted fuel tank. The flight provided valuable insight for improvements to Stalker VXE aimed at scaling its mission capabilities for the future.

Stalker VXE’s class-leading endurance, broad operating envelope, modular payload compliance, vertical take-off and landing capability, and open system architecture allow it to execute diverse and demanding missions while maintaining a small operational footprint and crew.

To achieve this world record flight time, Lockheed Martin partnered with:

  • Edge Autonomy as a developer and original equipment manufacturer of high-performance unmanned systems, including the Stalker VXE aircraft.
  • Adaptive Energy to develop cutting-edge fuel cell technology, investing in advanced power sources and testing innovative implementation techniques for field operations.
  • Composite Technology Development Inc. to build a light-weight external wing tank.
  • Precision Integrated Programs to provide flight operations support.
  • Clovis Area Modelers to provide FAI official contest directors to continuously monitor and adjudicate the world record flight for ratification.

Japan RPAS Project

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), the global leader in Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), is pleased to be selected to support the Japan Coast Guard’s (JCG) RPAS Project. Operations will feature GA-ASI’s MQ-9B SeaGuardian and begin in October 2022.

MQ-9B SeaGuardian
GA-ASI Selected for Japan Coast Guard RPAS Project

SeaGuardian will be used to conduct wide-area maritime surveillance to support JCG’s missions, which include search and rescue, disaster response, and maritime law enforcement. This project follows a series of successful JCG flight trials in 2020 that used SeaGuardian to validate the same JCG missions in accordance with Japan’s «Policy on Strengthening the Maritime Security Systems», using unmanned aerial vehicles to perform maritime wide-area surveillance.

«We’re proud to support the JCG’s maritime surveillance mission with our SeaGuardian UAS», said Linden Blue, CEO of GA-ASI. «The system’s ability to provide affordable, extremely long-endurance airborne surveillance with long-range sensors in the maritime domain is unprecedented».

SeaGuardian features a multi-mode maritime surface-search radar with an Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar (ISAR) imaging mode, an Automatic Identification System (AIS) receiver, and High-Definition – Full-Motion Video sensor equipped with optical and infrared cameras. This sensor suite enables real-time detection and identification of surface vessels over thousands of square nautical miles and provides automatic tracking of maritime targets and correlation of AIS transmitters with radar tracks.

SkyGuardian and SeaGuardian are revolutionizing the long-endurance RPAS market by providing all-weather capability and full compliance with STANAG-4671 (NATO UAS airworthiness standard). This feature, along with our operationally proven, collision-avoidance radar, enables flexible operations in civil airspace.

Initial Operational Test

Demonstrating its advanced capabilities in the fleet environment, the CH-53K King Stallion heavy lift helicopter completed Initial Operational Test & Evaluation test vignettes (IOT&E) paving the way for the expected declaration by the U.S. Marine Corps of Initial Operational Capability (IOC) later this year and a Full Rate Production decision in 2023.

CH-53K King Stallion
U.S. Marines with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment prepare to board a CH-53K King Stallion helicopter for an air assault training exercise at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, June 10, 2021 (Photo by Lance Corporal Yuritzy Gomez)

Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, built four System Demonstration Test Article CH-53K King Stallion helicopters and delivered them to the Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron One (VMX-1), in Jacksonville, North Carolina, to support the seven-month evaluation, which concluded in March.

«The performance of these intelligent aircraft during Marine-operated flight tests displays the CH‑53K’s operational effectiveness and ensures it will support Marines at the forefront of combat capability and heavy lift for decades to come», said Bill Falk, Sikorsky’s CH-53K King Stallion program director. «The CH‑53K King Stallion delivers greater lift and endurance capabilities over the legacy aircraft. Its fly-by-wire system reduces pilot workload and enhances the ability to refuel in midair, which is critical to expanding the Marine Corps operational flexibility across all U.S. and allied military services, making the CH-53K King Stallion a powerful asset for the Marines evolving missions».

 

CH-53K King Stallion Integrated and Operational Tests Completion

The completion of IOT&E testing follows several CH-53K King Stallion program markers including:

  • Day and night time air-to-air refueling;
  • Air-to-air refueling with 27,000 lb./12,247 kg external load;
  • Sea trials with over 350 landings;
  • Delivery of first six production aircraft.

The CH-53K King Stallion program is on track to achieve Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in 2022. IOC is achieved when the first squadron receives:

  • Four CH-53K King Stallion helicopters with the required personnel suitably trained and certified;
  • Primary and support equipment and technical publications, including initial spares with interim repair support and initial training curricula, are in place and ready to deploy in accordance with U.S. Marine Corps standards.

 

Building Helicopters for U.S. Marine Corps and Allies

The CH-53K King Stallion established high-tech production line in Stratford, Connecticut, is active with six aircraft in build, including three on schedule for delivery this year. There are 46 aircraft fully on contract including four heavy lift helicopters for the government of Israel. The helicopters for Israel are under a U.S. Navy Foreign Military Sales (FMS) agreement.

An additional 10 U.S. Marine Corps aircraft are on contract for long lead material. The program of record for the U.S. Marine Corps is 200 aircraft.

The CH-53K King Stallion will further support the U.S. Marine Corps in its mission to conduct expeditionary heavy-lift assault transport of armored vehicles, equipment, and personnel to support distributed operations deep inland from a sea-based center of operations. This capability is critical in the Indo-Pacific region and around the globe.