Category Archives: Unmanned Systems

Fire Scout

The U.S. Navy declared Initial Operational Capability (IOC) of the MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter June 28 clearing the way for fleet operations and training.

Navair says that the MQ-8C Fire Scout has flown over 1,500 hours in more than 700 sorties to date. Northrop Grumman is under contract to produce 38 MQ-8C aircraft for the U.S. Navy (Navair photo)

The MQ-8 C Fire Scout is a sea-based, vertical lift unmanned system that is designed to provide reconnaissance, situational awareness, and precision targeting support for ground, air and sea forces.

«This milestone is a culmination of several years of hard work and dedication from our joint government and industry team», said Captain Eric Soderberg, MQ-8C Fire Scout program manager. «We are excited to get this enhanced capability out to the fleet».

The MQ-8C Fire Scout variant is an endurance and payload upgrade to its predecessor, the MQ-8B, offering up to twelve hours on station depending on payload, and incorporates the commercial Bell 407 airframe.

The Northrop Grumman-built Fire Scout complements the manned MH-60 helicopter by extending the range and endurance of ship-based operations. It provides unique situational awareness and precision target support for the U.S. Navy.

The MQ-8C Fire Scout has flown over 1,500 hours with more than 700 sorties to date. Over the next few years, Northrop Grumman will continue MQ-8C Fire Scout production deliveries to the U.S. Navy to complete a total of 38 aircraft.

The MQ-8C Fire Scout will be equipped with an upgraded radar that allows for a larger field of view and a range of digital modes including weather detection, air-to-air targeting and a Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI). It will deploy with Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) in fiscal year 2021 while the MQ-8B conducts operations aboard LCS in 5th and 7th Fleets.

Fly-by-wire

A technology kit developed by Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, was used for the first time to operate a Black Hawk helicopter with full-authority, fly-by-wire flight controls. The May 29 flight marked the official start to the flight test program for the soon-to-be optionally piloted aircraft. Follow-on flight testing aims to include envelope expansion throughout the summer leading to fully autonomous flight (zero pilots) in 2020.

A Black Hawk equipped with Optionally-Piloted Vehicle (OPV) technology made its first flight at Sikorsky’s West Palm Beach, Fla., facility on May 29. Sikorsky is developing autonomous and OPV technology that builds on its fly-by-wire technology to ultimately reduce the number one cause of helicopter crashes: Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) (Photo courtesy Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company)

«This technology brings a whole new dimension of safety, reliability and capability to existing and future helicopters and to those who depend on them to complete their missions», said Chris Van Buiten, Vice President, Sikorsky Innovations. «We’re excited to be transforming a once mechanically controlled aircraft into one with fly-by-wire controls. This flight demonstrates the next step in making optionally piloted – and optimally piloted – aircraft, a reality».

This is the first full authority fly-by-wire retrofit kit developed by Sikorsky that has completely removed mechanical flight controls from the aircraft.

Through DARPA’s Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) program, Sikorsky is developing an OPV approach it describes as pilot directed autonomy to give operators the confidence to fly aircraft safely, reliably and affordably in optimally piloted modes enabling flight with two, one or zero crew. The program aims to improve operator decision aiding for manned operations while also enabling both unmanned and reduced crew operations.

Sikorsky has been demonstrating its MATRIX Technology on a modified S-76B called the Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft (SARA). The aircraft, which has been in test since 2013, has more than 300 hours of autonomous flight.

Sikorsky announced in March that its S-92 helicopter fleet update will include the introduction of phase one MATRIX Technology that will bring advanced computing power to the platform. This foundation enables adoption of autonomous landing technology.

Tactical UAV

In the upcoming Paris Air Show, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) will unveil the new tactical Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) of the Heron Family: the T-Heron.

The T-heron tactical UAV that IAI will unveil at the Paris Air Show, is powered by a Rotax engine, which allows it to reach a maximum altitude of 24,000 feet/7,315 m, a top speed of 120 knots/138 mph/222 km/h and to carry useful payloads of up to 180 kg/397 lbs. (IAI image)

Designed for tactical missions on the battlefield, the T-Heron is expected to be used extensively by ground troops and coastal guards, as well as by other protection forces. With a versatile design and suitable for a variety of payloads, it features the most advanced IAI technologies.

The T-Heron joins IAI’s Heron UAS Family, which boasts rich know-how and extensive experience of over 40 years, over 1,700,000 combat flight hours and over 50 operational customers, which use IAI UAS’s in a range of missions, environmental conditions and warfare theatres across the globe.

The T-heron features one of the highest levels of flight safety and reliability and is resistant to extreme weather conditions. Its advanced, certified and proven Rotax engine takes it to a maximum altitude of 24,000 feet/7,315 m, speed of 120 knots/138 mph/222 km/h and supports useful payloads of up to 180 kg/397 lbs.

Capable of carrying several payloads concurrently, and equipped with IAI’s best sensors, the T-Heron complies with global standards, including STANAG 4671 requirements.

Moshe Levy, IAI EVP and CEO of the Military Aircraft Division, said, «We are proud to introduce the most recent UAS developed by IAI. Our T-Heron tactical UAS rounds up the range of operational UAS solutions IAI offers to all forces on the battlefield: marine, air, ground, and intelligence. IAI preserves its leadership position in UAS’s with a continuous stream of solutions for the challenges posed by the field».

IAI Ltd. is Israel’s largest aerospace and defense company and a globally recognized technology and innovation leader, specializing in developing and manufacturing advanced, state-of-the-art systems for air, space, sea, land, cyber and homeland security. IAI also designs and manufactures business jets and aerostructures, performs overhaul and maintenance on commercial aircraft and converts passenger aircraft to refueling and cargo configurations.

Flight control

For the first time in aviation history, an aircraft has been manoeuvred in flight using supersonically blown air, removing the need for complex movable flight control surfaces.

Successful demonstration of breakthrough blown-air flight technologies to revolutionise future aircraft design
Successful demonstration of breakthrough blown-air flight technologies to revolutionise future aircraft design

In a series of ground-breaking flight trials that took place in the skies above north-west Wales, the MAGMA Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) demonstrated two innovative flow control technologies which could revolutionise future aircraft design.

MAGMA, designed and developed by researchers at The University of Manchester in collaboration with engineers from BAE Systems, successfully trialled the two ‘flap-free’ technologies earlier this month at the Llanbedr Airfield.

The technologies have been designed to improve the control and performance of aircraft. By replacing moving surfaces with a simpler ‘blown air’ solution, the trials have paved the way for engineers to create better performing aircraft that are lighter, more reliable and cheaper to operate. The technologies could also improve an aircraft’s stealth as they reduce the number of gaps and edges that currently make aircraft more observable on radar.

Developing such technologies helps to ensure the UK has the right technologies and skills in place for the future and could be applied to the development of a Future Combat Air System. It is the latest technological breakthrough to come from a number of BAE Systems collaborations with academia and industry, that will help the UK to deliver more advanced capability, more quickly, and through shared investment.

Julia Sutcliffe, Chief Technologist, BAE Systems Air, said: «MAGMA is a great example of how collaborating with bright minds at British universities can deliver ground-breaking research and innovation. Our partnership with The University of Manchester has identified cutting-edge technology, in this case flap-free flight, and turned what began as a feasibility study into a proven capability in just a number of months. It demonstrates how Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) can be applied in the real-world and I hope the success of these trials inspires the next generation of much-needed engineers and scientists».

Bill Crowther, senior academic and leader of the MAGMA project at The University of Manchester, added: «We are excited to have been part of a long-standing effort to change the way in which aircraft can be controlled, going all the way back to the invention of wing warping by the Wright brothers. It’s been a great project for students to be part of, highlighting that real innovation in engineering is more about finding practical solutions to many hundreds of small technical challenges than having single moments of inspiration. The partnership with BAE Systems has allowed us the freedom as a university to focus on research adventure, with BAE Systems providing the pathway to industrial application. We made our first fluidic thrust vectoring nozzle from glued together bits of plastic and tested it on a hair drier fan nearly 20 years ago. Today BAE Systems is 3D printing our components out of titanium and we are flight testing them on the back of a jet engine in an aircraft designed and built by the project team. It doesn’t get much better than that».

The technologies demonstrated in the trials were:

  • Wing Circulation Control: Taking air from the aircraft engine and blowing it supersonically through narrow slots around a specially shaped wing tailing edge in order to control the aircraft.
  • Fluidic Thrust Vectoring: Controlling the aircraft by blowing air jets inside the nozzle to deflect the exhaust jet and generate a control force.

The trials form part of a long-term collaboration between BAE Systems, academia and the UK government to explore and develop flap-free flight technologies, and the data will be used to inform future research programmes. Other technologies to improve the aircraft performance are being explored in collaboration with NATO Science and Technology Organisation.

Indago UAS

Combating counterinsurgency, conducting reconnaissance, collecting information vital to national security, United States Special Forces conduct some of the most sensitive and critical missions.

Lockheed Martin’s latest Indago tethered variant is ready for the battlefield after completing successful flight testing
Lockheed Martin’s latest Indago tethered variant is ready for the battlefield after completing successful flight testing

The people and infrastructure required for these missions also require constant protection through reliable intelligence and surveillance. That’s why Lockheed Martin expanded its Indago portfolio to include a tethered option.

Without the tether, Indago 3 flies for 50-70 minutes and can be carried in a rucksack, leading the group 1 small Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) industry in endurance and transportability. For uninterrupted Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR), special forces can quickly configure the tether, taking away the need for battery reliance.

«When it comes to unmanned systems and capability, size does matter», said Michael Carlson, Business Development manager for Indago. «We want to make something as important as force and facility protection as simple and effective as possible – the tethered Indago can do that».

Its payloads provide high resolution, daytime, electro-optical imagery capable of reading a license plate from a 1000-foot/305-meter standoff distance. For nighttime, it provides detailed thermal infrared that can identify a person, weapon, and other intelligence, such as warmth of vehicle tracks on the surface. This includes imagery in black hot, white hot, and ironbow, an orange and purple heatmap color scheme.

 

FEATURES AND SPECIFICATIONS

In addition to its compact folding design and quick setup time, the Indago quadrotor UAS features include:

  • Whisper quiet, rugged, all-weather capability;
  • Configurable failsafe behaviors;
  • Industry-leading image stabilization;
  • Proven Kestrel 3 autopilot;
  • Multiple hot-swappable payload options;
  • Up to 50 minutes flight time with 200-gram/7-ounce payload;
  • Line-of-sight range of 2.5 kilometer/1.55 miles;
  • More than 3-kilometer range using optional long-range antennae kit;
  • A ready to fly weight of 5 lbs. with payload included (2,268 grams);
  • UAV dimensions (L × W × H):
    • Open: 32 × 32 × 7;
    • Folded: 12 × 9 × 6;
  • Operating altitude of 10-500 feet/3-152 m Above Ground Level (AGL) (typical), 18,000 feet/5,486 m Median Sea Level (MSL).

Teaming System

Boeing has introduced its newest unmanned platform, the Boeing Airpower Teaming System.

A model of the unmanned Boeing Airpower Teaming System was unveiled at the Australian International Airshow February 27. The Boeing Airpower Teaming System will provide multi-mission support for air control missions (Boeing photo)
A model of the unmanned Boeing Airpower Teaming System was unveiled at the Australian International Airshow February 27. The Boeing Airpower Teaming System will provide multi-mission support for air control missions (Boeing photo)

Designed for global defense customers by Boeing Australia, it is the company’s largest investment in a new unmanned aircraft program outside the United States.

The aircraft will complement and extend airborne missions through smart teaming with existing military aircraft.

A model of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System was unveiled at the Australian International Airshow by the Australian Minister for Defence, the Honourable Christopher Pyne Members of Parliament (MP). As a research and development activity, the Australian Government and Boeing will produce a concept demonstrator called the Loyal Wingman – Advanced Development Program that will provide key learnings toward the production of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System.

«The Boeing Airpower Teaming System will provide a disruptive advantage for allied forces’ manned/unmanned missions», said Kristin Robertson, vice president and general manager of Boeing Autonomous Systems. «With its ability to reconfigure quickly and perform different types of missions in tandem with other aircraft, our newest addition to Boeing’s portfolio will truly be a force multiplier as it protects and projects air power».

The Boeing Airpower Teaming System will:

  • provide fighter-like performance, measuring 38 feet long (11.7 metres) and able to fly more than 2,000 nautical miles/2,302 miles/3704 km;
  • integrate sensor packages onboard to support intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions and electronic warfare;
  • use artificial intelligence to fly independently or in support of manned aircraft while maintaining safe distance between other aircraft.

«This aircraft is a historic endeavor for Boeing. Not only is it developed outside the United States, it is also designed so that our global customers can integrate local content to meet their country-specific requirements», said Marc Allen, president, Boeing International. «The Boeing Airpower Teaming System provides a transformational capability in terms of defense, and our customers – led by Australia – effectively become partners on the program with the ability to grow their own sovereign capabilities to support it, including a high-tech workforce».

First flight is planned for 2020.

EW Podded System

Lockheed Martin has been awarded a Prototype Project Agreement through an Other Transaction Agreement (OTA) with Consortium Management Group (CMG) on behalf of Consortium for Command, Control and Communications in Cyberspace (C5) valued at $18 million to design, develop and test a cyber/electronic warfare podded system for the «Air Large» component of the U.S. Army’s Multi-Function Electronic Warfare (MFEW) family of systems program.

Artist rendering of the Silent CROW podded system mounted on a Gray Eagle unmanned aerial system (Credit: Lockheed Martin)
Artist rendering of the Silent CROW podded system mounted on a Gray Eagle unmanned aerial system (Credit: Lockheed Martin)

Lockheed Martin created an open architecture system called Silent CROW that can be easily configured for a variety of airborne and ground platforms, such as a wing-mounted pod for Group 4 unmanned aerial systems. Silent CROW would enable U.S. soldiers to disrupt, deny, degrade, deceive and destroy adversaries’ electronic systems through electronic support, electronic attack and cyber techniques.

«Lockheed Martin’s deep roots in cyberspace allow us to anticipate future threats while actively solving today’s most complex cyber problems», said Deon Viergutz, vice president of Lockheed Martin’s Spectrum Convergence. «We’re prioritizing the Army’s critical needs by partnering with them and investing in new technologies that are scalable and affordable».

Lockheed Martin has decades of cyber and integrated electronic warfare experience, providing real-time situational awareness and countermeasure technologies to protect land, sea and air assets from attacks. The team has completed extensive internal research, development and testing on Silent CROW and will continue to evolve it’s cyber and electronic warfare systems to meet the emerging needs of our Department of Defense (DoD) customers and overcome advances in adversary technologies.

Brimstone and Protector

MBDA has received a contract for the integration of its Brimstone high-precision strike missile onto the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) Protector RG Mk1 remotely piloted aircraft developed and manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI).

The Protector RG Mk1 can carry three lightweight Brimstones per weapon station, and so offers a much higher loadout than the Reaper platform it will replace
The Protector RG Mk1 can carry three lightweight Brimstones per weapon station, and so offers a much higher loadout than the Reaper platform it will replace

Brimstone and Protector RG Mk1 will provide key new capabilities to the Royal Air Force’s Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) force, enabling them to engage high-speed moving and manoeuvring targets (including maritime fast attack craft for the first time). The Protector RG Mk1 can carry three lightweight Brimstones per weapon station, and so offers a much higher loadout than the Reaper platform it will replace.

Integration of Brimstone onto Protector RG Mk1 (which is the weaponised version of MQ-9B SkyGuardian) follows a series of successful firing trials of Brimstone from the Reaper/Predator B aircraft in the United States that demonstrated the advancement in performance that Brimstone offers. Brimstone integration will be completed in time for the entry to service of the aircraft with the RAF.

James Allibone, MBDA’s UK Sales Director, said: «Protector RG Mk1 is the third UK air platform to benefit from the unmatched capabilities of the Brimstone missile, providing UK Armed Forces with vital operational advantages and sovereign defence capabilities. Brimstone is unique in its ability to be carried by platforms in all domains, land, sea and air, providing a common weapon that delivers both operational and cost benefits. Commonality is a key part of all MBDA’s latest systems, and is a major contributor to the £1.7 billion in savings that the partnership approach between the UK MoD and MBDA has generated».

Earlier in 2018, the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence (UK MoD) announced a £400 million contract with MBDA for the Capability Sustainment Programme (CSP) of Brimstone missile, to build new missiles and extend this missile’s service life beyond 2030.

 

CHARACTERISTICS

Weight 50 kg/110.2 lbs.
Length 1.8 m/5.9 feet
Diameter 180 mm/7 inch

 

Unmanned Aerostat

Lockheed Martin completed the successful integration of a Telephonics RDR-1700B radar onto a 74K aerostat for land and sea missions. This latest milestone follows Lockheed Martin’s successful integration of various payloads including radar sensors from Telephonics, Leonardo and Northrop Grumman as well as electro-optic/infra-red cameras from L-3 Wescam.

The Lockheed Martin 74K Aerostat System provides multi-mission, multi-domain persistent surveillance capability from maritime domain awareness to border and infrastructure protection
The Lockheed Martin 74K Aerostat System provides multi-mission, multi-domain persistent surveillance capability from maritime domain awareness to border and infrastructure protection

«The integration of the Telephonics radar showcases our continued commitment to exploring the latest technologies as part of our aerostat systems», said Jerry Mamrol, vice president of Navigation, Surveillance and Unmanned Systems for Lockheed Martin. «It allows for multi-domain, modular and open architecture capabilities for faster, more cost-effective development efforts».

The Lockheed Martin 74K Aerostat System, with integrated multi-mission payloads and high operational availability, has supported the warfighter in many harsh and challenging environments. The 74K aerostat system leverages a wide-area, secure communications backbone for the integration of threat reporting from multiple available sensor assets. With more than 1.6 million combat mission flight hours, the robust design, communications relay and C4 integration on the 74K aerostat supports automated interoperability between tactical and theater surveillance assets and dissemination of operational threat data to aid interdiction of hostile fires and unconventional threats.

Lockheed Martin has specialized in lighter-than-air technology for over 95 years, delivering persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems to the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and national agencies.

First-Of-Its-Kind

U.S. Army pilots exercised supervised autonomy to direct an Optionally-Piloted Helicopter (OPV) through a series of missions to demonstrate technology developed by Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The series of flights marked the first time that non-Sikorsky pilots operated the Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft (SARA), a modified S-76B commercial helicopter, as an OPV aircraft.

U.S. Army Pilots Fly Autonomous Sikorsky Helicopter in First-Of-Its-Kind Demonstration
U.S. Army Pilots Fly Autonomous Sikorsky Helicopter in First-Of-Its-Kind Demonstration

«Future vertical lift aircraft will require robust autonomous and optimally-piloted systems to complete missions and improve safety», said Chris Van Buiten, vice president, Sikorsky Innovations. «We could not be more thrilled to welcome Army aviators to the cockpit to experience first-hand the reliability of optimally-piloted technology developed by the innovative engineers at Sikorsky and DARPA. These aviators experienced the same technology that we are installing and testing on a Black Hawk that will take its first flight over the next several months».

SARA, which has more than 300 hours of autonomous flight, successfully demonstrated the advanced capabilities developed as part of the third phase of DARPA’s Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) program. The aircraft was operated at different times by pilots on board and pilots on the ground. Sikorsky’s MATRIX Technology autonomous software and hardware, which is installed on SARA, executed various scenarios including:

  • Automated Take Off and Landing: The helicopter autonomously executed take-off, traveled to its destination, and autonomously landed;
  • Obstacle Avoidance: The helicopter’s LIDAR and cameras enabled it to detect and avoid unknown objects such as wires, towers and moving vehicles;
  • Automatic Landing Zone Selection: The helicopter’s LIDAR sensors determined a safe landing zone;
  • Contour Flight: The helicopter flew low to the ground and behind trees.

The recent Mission Software Flight Demonstration was a collaboration with the U.S. Army’s Aviation Development Directorate, Sikorsky and DARPA. The Army and DARPA are working with Sikorsky to improve and expand ALIAS capabilities developed as a tailorable autonomy kit for installation in both fixed wing airplanes and helicopters.

Over the next few months, Sikorsky will for the first time fly a Black Hawk equipped with ALIAS. The company is working closely with the Federal Aviation Administration to certify ALIAS/MATRIX technology so that it will be available on current and future commercial and military aircraft.

«We’re demonstrating a certifiable autonomy solution that is going to drastically change the way pilots fly», said Mark Ward, Sikorsky Chief Pilot, Stratford, Conn. Flight Test Center. «We’re confident that MATRIX Technology will allow pilots to focus on their missions. This technology will ultimately decrease instances of the number one cause of helicopter crashes: Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT)».

Through the DARPA ALIAS program, Sikorsky is developing an OPV approach it describes as pilot directed autonomy that will give operators the confidence to fly aircraft safely, reliably and affordably in optimally piloted modes enabling flight with two, one or zero crew. The program will improve operator decision aiding for manned operations while also enabling both unmanned and reduced crew operations.