Category Archives: Unmanned Systems

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.

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.