Category Archives: Unmanned Systems

Valkyrie

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), along with partner Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, Inc., completed the successful fourth flight test of the XQ-58A Valkyrie low-cost Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) demonstrator January 23, 2020, at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona.

The Air Force Research Laboratory and Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, Inc., completed the successful fourth flight of the XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator, a long-range, high subsonic unmanned air vehicle, at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona, on January 23, 2020. The vehicle is pictured here during a 2019 flight (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lieutenant Randolph Abaya, 586 Flight Test Squadron)

During the test event, the Valkyrie demonstrator’s flight successfully met all of the test objectives, and the envelope was expanded beyond prior tests before safely landing in the Arizona desert. According to AFRL XQ-58A Valkyrie Program Manager Michael Wipperman, flying at higher altitude allowed researchers to gather data in an operational environment more representative of real-world flight conditions.

«Flying at this altitude helped us gather important data such as vehicle response to temperature and vibration, which will prepare us as we move toward our next flight test», said Wipperman.

This test event represents a return-to-flight for the XQ-58A Valkyrie, which experienced a mishap upon landing after a successful 90-minute flight in October 2019. Following a Safety Investigation Board probe into the mishap, Wipperman says the resulting information was outbriefed to the convening authority, and the recommendations were taken and approved to ensure the success of this latest test.

«We’re very pleased with the outcome of this fourth flight test», said Wipperman. «We were able to show recovery for a successful flight at even higher altitudes. Given that we have overcome these challenges, we have confidence that the aircraft can continue its progression into flying in more representative conditions».

Developed as part of AFRL’s Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology portfolio, the XQ-58A Valkyrie is designed to be a runway-independent, reusable unmanned air vehicle capable of a broad range of operational missions. The XQ-58A Valkyrie was developed through low cost procurement and is designed to be significantly less expensive to operate than traditional piloted or unpiloted vehicles, while capable of achieving the same critical missions. Taking only 2.5 years from contract award to first flight, it is the first example of a class of unmanned air vehicles developed through this time-saving process, which seeks to break the escalating cost trajectory of tactically relevant aircraft.

A total of five flights are planned for the XQ-58A Valkyrie, with objectives that include evaluating system functionality, aerodynamic performance, and launch and recovery systems. The fifth flight, scheduled for later this year, will be a capability demonstration showcasing the ability of the vehicle to support operational needs.

Maiden Flight

Leonardo has announced the maiden flight of its new Falco Xplorer drone aircraft. Falco Xplorer S/N0001 took off from Trapani Air Force base on January 15, cruised over the Gulf of Trapani in a dedicated fly zone, for around 60 minutes and then returned to base, landing safely. The maiden flight is a significant milestone which has been achieved through technical and engineering support, at the test flight planning stages and with other related activities, by the Italian Air Force Test Flight Centre. The Remotely-Piloted Air System (RPAS), which combines endurance of over 24 hours with a max payload of 350 kg/772 lbs., will now embark on a series of flight campaigns which will assess the aircraft’s full range of capabilities including its integrated sensor system. These campaigns will also certify the Falco Xplorer against NATO’s airworthiness Standardization Agreement (STANAG) 4671, dramatically expanding the territory over which it can operate.

The new Remotely-Piloted Air System (RPAS), the largest Leonardo has ever built, has successfully undergone its first test flight

The Falco Xplorer was first unveiled at last year’s Paris Air Show. It has been designed to offer persistent, multi-sensor strategic surveillance to military and civil customers and can be procured as either an integrated system or as a fully-managed information-superiority service, flown and operated by Leonardo. With a maximum take-off weight of 1.3 tons and an operating ceiling above 24,000 feet/7,315 meters, the aircraft is an affordable and potent option for Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR).

Previous Falco variants have been chosen by the United Nations and Frontex, the European border and coastguard agency. The Falco Xplorer design draws on feedback from these and other Falco customers. It features a powerful sensor suite, which includes the Company’s Gabbiano T-80 multi-mode surveillance radar, its SAGE electronic intelligence system, an automatic identification system for maritime missions and an Electro-Optical (EO) turret. An optional hyperspectral sensor will allow the Falco Xplorer to monitor pollution and agricultural development. The native satellite link capability allows for beyond-line-of-sight operations, while its open system architecture means that third-party sensors can be easily integrated. Not subject to International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) restrictions and meeting the criteria for Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) class II, Falco Xplorer is readily exportable around the world.

The Falco Xplorer is designed by Leonardo, from the aircraft to its sensor suite, mission system and ground control station, making the company a ‘one-stop-shop’ for unmanned capabilities. Advantages of this approach include the ability to offer competitive pricing and the ability to draw on knowledge and experience from across the business to tailor a Falco Xplorer package to the precise needs of customers, whether in terms of technology or commercial arrangements.

First Flight

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Gremlins program has completed the first flight test of its X-61A vehicle. The test in late November at the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah included one captive-carry mission aboard a C-130A Hercules and an airborne launch and free flight lasting just over an hour-and-a-half.

Gremlins air vehicle during a flight test at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, November 2019

The goal for this third phase of the Gremlins program is completion of a full-scale technology demonstration series featuring the air recovery of multiple, low-cost, reusable Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs), or «Gremlins». Safety, reliability, and affordability are the key objectives for the system, which would launch groups of UASs from multiple types of military aircraft while out of range from adversary defenses. Once Gremlins complete their mission, the transport aircraft would retrieve them in the air and carry them home, where ground crews would prepare them for their next use within 24 hours.

The team met all objectives of the test in November, including gathering data on operation and performance, air and ground-based command and control systems, and flight termination. A parachute anomaly occurred in a recovery sequence that is specific to the test series and not part of the operational plan. The incident resulted in the loss of the test vehicle, one of five in the program. Four vehicles remain operational and available for the test series, which will continue in 2020.

«The vehicle performed well, giving us confidence we are on the right path and can expect success in our follow-on efforts», said Scott Wierzbanowski, the program manager for Gremlins in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. «We got a closer look at vehicle performance for launch, rate capture, engine start, and transition to free flight. We had simulated the performance on the ground, and have now fully tested them in the air. We also demonstrated a variety of vehicle maneuvers that helped validate our aerodynamic data».

The next step for the program is a full evaluation of the test data, as well as to understand any issues related to the failure for the main parachute to deploy. The team anticipates the second flight test at Dugway in the spring 2020 timeframe to remain on track.

The C-130 Hercules is the demonstration platform for the Gremlins program, but Wierzbanowski says the Services could easily modify the system for another transport aircraft or other major weapons system. Gremlins also can incorporate several types of sensors up to 150 pounds/68 kg, and easily integrate technologies to address different types of stakeholders and missions.

The U.S. Air Force designated the Gremlins air vehicle as X-61A in August in recognition of the technical challenges associated with the program.

A Dynetics-led team is the performer for the Phase 3 demonstration series.

Gremlins X-61A Maiden Test Flight

Guardian

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) concluded a series of flight demonstrations using its MQ-9 Guardian Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) on December 19, 2019. The demonstrations showcased the maritime surveillance capabilities of the MQ-9, and the GA-ASI-developed Detect and Avoid (DAA) system for traffic-deconfliction in civil airspace. The flights were sponsored by the Hellenic Air Force (HAF) and the Hellenic Coast Guard (HCG) and staged out of Larissa Air Base in Greece. The flights were performed for an audience of European military and civilian representatives.

GA-ASI Concludes Successful Series of MQ-9 Demonstrations in Greece

«We were honored to have the HAF’s and the HCG’s support for these flight demonstrations with our MQ-9», said Linden Blue, CEO, GA-ASI. «The MQ-9 RPAS is already a strategic asset for NATO countries, providing mission persistence and interoperability between allies. We showcased MQ-9s maritime surveillance and the civil airspace integration capabilities for our European customers». The MQ-9 configuration demonstrated is operational in the U.S.

Currently GA-ASI aircraft systems support the Italian Air Force, the UK Royal Air Force, the French Air Force, and the Spanish Air Force. The Ministry of Defence for the Netherlands has selected MQ-9 for the Royal Netherlands Air Force, and the Government of Belgium has approved Belgian Defense to negotiate the acquisition of GA-ASI’s MQ-9B. In early December, the Australian Government announced selection of MQ-9B for the Australian Defence Force under Project Air 7003. GA-ASI RPAS are operated by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and NASA.

«The advanced capabilities of these aircraft are striking. Through the 10 days of demonstrations, the country of Greece has seen the value of MQ-9’s for maritime patrol and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) monitoring, border surveillance, support for search and rescue efforts, and over-watch of forest fire response efforts», said an HAF official.

The DAA system consists of an air-to-air radar integrated with Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS II), and Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B). The DAA system enables safe flight of an MQ-9 in civil airspace, and can even detect air traffic that is not actively transmitting its position.

The MQ-9 also demonstrated a multi-mode, maritime surface-search radar, and High-Definition/Full-Motion Video Optical and Infrared sensor. This sensor suite enables real-time detection and identification of large and small surface vessels in all-weather at long ranges, 360 degrees around the aircraft. The featured Raytheon SeaVue surface-search radar provided continuous tracking of maritime targets and correlation of Automatic Identification System (AIS) transmitters with radar detections. The Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar (ISAR) mode facilitates classification of vessels which are beyond optical sensor range.

For the demonstration, GA-ASI partnered with SES, a leading satellite communications (SATCOM) operator and managed services provider, with over 70 satellites in Geostationary Orbit (GEO) and Medium Earth Orbit (MEO). SES provided the GEO satellite connectivity that enabled the MQ-9 to operate securely with a high capacity datalink, enabling real-time transmission of sensor data from the aircraft, and extending its effective operational range far beyond that of «line-of-sight» datalinks.

«With our global satellite fleet, SES has been supporting the critical needs of GA-ASI and their government customers who have operated these aircraft for close to two decades», said Nicole Robinson, Senior Vice President, Global Government at SES Networks. «We were proud to support this demonstration effort for the Hellenic Air Force as part of our long-standing relationship with General Atomics».

Black Eagle

Towards the close of the year, December 30, 2019, the Consortium of Unmanned Aircraft (PTTA MALE) launched (roll out) the prototype of Nir Air Crew (PUNA) type ‘Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE)’ which was able to fly for 30 hours, with three missions as well: Surveillance, Mapping, Defense.

Indonesia Introduced Black Eagle, Unmanned Aircraft

PUNA MALE was made aiming to help maintain the sovereignty of the Unitary Republic of Indonesia from the air, very efficiently and reduce loss of life (without a pilot). The need for efficient air surveillance continues to grow along with the increasing threat of border areas, terrorism, smuggling, piracy, and theft of natural resources such as illegal logging and illegal fishing.

The PTTA MALE consortium was formed in 2017, consisting of the Directorate General of Pothan, Defense and Security Research, BPPT, ITB, LAPAN, PT LEN, and PTDI. The initiative was started by the Ministry of Defense Balitbang in 2015, where it was agreed that the DRaft needs and Objectives (DR&O) of a vehicle to be operated by the TNI, especially the Air Force.

The design process begins with the ‘preliminary design, basic design’ activity by making twice the wind tunnel model and the results of tests in 2016 and 2018 at BPPT, and making the ‘engineering document and drawing’ in 2017, with budgets from Balitbang Kemhan and BPPT.

The year 2019 starts with the ‘manufacturing’ stage, which begins with the ‘design structure’ process, the ‘Finite Element Method’ calculation, the creation of 3D drawings, and detailed 2D drawings done by BPPT engineers and supervised by PT Dirgantara Indonesia. Then proceed with the process of making ‘tooling, molding’, molding and then fabricating with the pre-preg process with autoclave.

In this year also the procurement of ‘Flight Control System (FCS)’ is produced in Spain. The integration process by BPPT engineers and PT Dirgantara Indonesia who have received training to integrate and operate the control system.

In 2020 two (2) prototype units will be built, each for the purpose of flight testing and for testing the strength of structures at BPPT. In the same year (2020), the process of certifying military products will begin and it is expected that by the end of 2021 a type certificate will have been obtained from the Indonesian Ministry of Defense Feasibility Center (IMAA).

The integration of the weapons system on the PUNA MALE prototype was carried out starting in 2020 and is projected to be certified as getting a military product type certification in 2023.

 

Black Eagle

Hammam Riza, Head of BPPT said that today (December 30) is a symbol of mastery of key technologies from one of the aerospace technologies. Hammam Riza also hopes that the latest defense technology innovations will continue to be supported by the national industry, so as to be able to meet the needs of the defense industry and at the same time reduce the import of the defense industry. Hamman representing the Minister of Research and Technology/KaBRIN gave the name PUNA MALE with Black Eagle.

For the development of Elang Hitam, the consortium has compiled a roadmap consisting of 3 major parts, namely: 1) Platform Development, 2) Flight Control System Development, and 3) Weapon System Development.

Based on the release of the Bureau of Cooperation and Public Communication, Ministry of Research and Technology/BRIN and BPPT PR, here are the specifications of PUNA MALE Elang Hitam, which was launched today.

 

CHARACTERISTICS

AIRCRAFT DIMENSION
Length 8.30 m/27.23 feet
Wing Span 16 m/52.49 feet
OPERATIONAL PERFORMANCE
Radius 250 km/155 miles (Line of Sight)
Ceiling 7200 m/23,622 feet
Endurance up to 30 hours
Payload 300 kg/661 lbs.

 

PUNA MALE Elang Hitam will later fill the needs of the Indonesian Air Force squadron, help monitor the territory of the Republic of Indonesia through air vehicles, and support the development of the defense and security industry in Indonesia.

First flight

The prototype of Airbus Helicopters’ VSR700 unmanned aerial system has performed its first flight at a drone test centre near Aix-en-Provence in the south of France. The VSR700 performed several take-offs and landings on Friday 8th of November with the longest flight lasting around 10 minutes.

VSR700 prototype performs first flight

In accordance with the airworthiness authority that provided the flight clearance, the VSR700 was tethered with 30-metre/98-foot cables to fully secure the flight test zone. The subsequent phases of the flight test programme will now evolve towards free flight, and then progressively open the flight envelope.

«The VSR700 is a fully-fledged unmanned aerial system, capitalising on Airbus Helicopters’ extensive experience of advanced autopilot systems and engineering expertise to provide modern militaries with new capabilities», said Bruno Even, Airbus Helicopters CEO. «This first flight of the VSR700 prototype is a major milestone for the programme as we make progress on the operational demonstrator for the French Navy that will perform trials in 2021 in partnership with Naval Group».

The VSR700, derived from Hélicoptères Guimbal’s Cabri G2, is an unmanned aerial system in the 500-1000 kg/1,102-2,204 lbs. maximum take-off weight range. It offers the best balance of payload capability, endurance and operational cost. It is capable of carrying multiple full size naval sensors for extended periods and can operate in existing ships, alongside a helicopter, with a low logistical footprint.

The VSR700 prototype which has just performed its maiden flight is a step change from the optionally piloted demonstrator that first flew in 2017 and which was based on a modified Cabri G2 equipped for autonomous flight. Compared to the demonstrator, the VSR700 prototype has a specialized set of avionics and an advanced flight control system, a payload bay in place of the pilot station designed to manage mission equipment, as well as a sleeker, more aerodynamic shape to improve flight performance.

First Test Flight

Boeing and the U.S. Navy successfully completed the first test flight of the MQ-25 Stingray unmanned aerial refueler on 19 September 2019.

Boeing and the U.S. Navy successfully completed the first test flight of the MQ-25 Stingray unmanned aerial refueler September 19. The MQ-25 Stingray test asset, known as T1, completed the autonomous two-hour flight under the direction of Boeing test pilots operating from a ground control station at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois, where the test program is based (Boeing photo)

The MQ-25 Stingray test asset, known as T1, completed the autonomous two-hour flight under the direction of Boeing test pilots operating from a ground control station at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois, where the test program is based. The aircraft completed an autonomous taxi and takeoff and then flew a pre-determined route to validate the aircraft’s basic flight functions and operations with the ground control station.

«Seeing MQ-25 Stingray in the sky is a testament to our Boeing and U.S. Navy team working the technology, systems and processes that are helping get MQ-25 Stingray to the carrier», said Boeing MQ-25 Stingray Program Director Dave Bujold. «This aircraft and its flight test program ensure we’re delivering the MQ-25 Stingray to the carrier fleet with the safety, reliability and capability the U.S. Navy needs to conduct its vital mission».

The Boeing-owned test asset is a predecessor to the Engineering Development Model (EDM) aircraft and is being used for early learning and discovery to meet the goals of the U.S. Navy’s accelerated acquisition program. Boeing will produce four EDM MQ-25 Stingray air vehicles for the U.S. Navy under an $805 million contract awarded in August 2018.

The MQ-25 Stingray will provide the U.S. Navy with a much-needed carrier-based unmanned aerial refueling capability. It will allow for better use of the combat strike fighters currently performing the tanking role and will extend the range of the carrier air wing.

«Today’s flight is an exciting and significant milestone for our program and the Navy», said the U.S. Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation (PMA-268) Program Manager Captain Chad Reed. «The flight of this test asset two years before our first MQ-25 Stingray arrives represents the first big step in a series of early learning opportunities that are helping us progress toward delivery of a game-changing capability for the carrier air wing and strike group commanders».

T1 received its experimental airworthiness certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in September, verifying that the air vehicle meets the agency’s requirements for safe flight. Testing will continue with T1 to further early learning and discovery that advances major systems and software development.

Boeing MQ-25 Unmanned Aerial Refueler Completes First Test Flight

Combat Aircraft

A new project to develop a novel unmanned combat aircraft has been announced by the RAF Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl).

Dstl to develop conceptual unmanned aircraft for RAF

The Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (LANCA) concept looks to offer additional capability, deployed alongside fighter jets like the F-35 and Typhoon – offering increased protection, survivability and information for the manned aircraft – and could even provide an unmanned combat air «fleet» in the future.

Specifically, in a break with traditional approaches for combat air systems in the UK, the innovative LANCA concept aims to deliver dramatic reductions in traditional cost and development timeline.

Under LANCA, a technology demonstrator project known as ‘Mosquito’ has awarded contracts for Phase 1 of the work, which will produce a preliminary system design for an unmanned air vehicle and assessment of the key risk areas and cost-capability trade-offs for an operational concept. Initial flight test of the demonstrator air vehicle could take place as early as 2022.

Phase 1 will include the exploration of novel design, development, prototyping, manufacture, and support, to enable low-cost rapid development and evolution of a potential future unmanned combat air system. Dstl, which provides science and technology for the defence and security of the UK, is delivering the technical oversight, project management, and partnering for Project Mosquito.

For Phase 1, contracts were awarded to three teams led by Blue Bear Systems Research Ltd, Boeing Defence UK Ltd, and Callen-Lenz (Team BLACKDAWN partnered with Bombardier Belfast and Northrop Grumman UK Ltd).

LANCA originated in 2015 studies by Dstl to understand innovative Combat Air technologies and concepts that might offer radical reductions in cost and development time. Subsequently LANCA was brought into the RAF RCO as part of the Future Combat Air System Technology Initiative (FCAS TI). LANCA aims to explore the utility and feasibility of unmanned capability adjuncts to existing and future Fast Jet aircraft, specifically those that offer substantial reductions in traditional cost and development timelines.

Project Mosquito has two planned phases. After the 12-month Phase 1, Phase 2 will select up to two of the Phase 1 solutions to further mature the designs, complete manufacturing of the technology demonstrator and conclude with a limited flight-test programme.

The RAF RCO, in partnership with Dstl, is adopting creative approaches to deliver this challenging project. For example, by conducting a competition to access ‘best of breed’, it has enabled non-traditional suppliers to propose their approach to meet the MOD’s ambitious aims. Additionally, subject matter experts within the MOD are assigned as technical partners to each team, supporting industry with technical and operational advice and decisions. This will enhance the opportunity of this game-changing concept in a coherent approach for future combat air 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.