Category Archives: Unmanned Systems

Phoenix

The NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance Force (NAGSF), with support from Northrop Grumman Corporation, marked a significant milestone recently in the System Level Performance Verification with the completion of a nine-hour training and test flight conducted for the first time under control of NAGSF trained pilots.

NATO RQ-4D Phoenix Reaches New Milestone

«Northrop Grumman is proud to support NAGSF pilots training as they control flights with number one NATO RQ-4D Phoenix», said Jane Bishop, vice president and general manager, autonomous systems, Northrop Grumman. «We remain committed in our relationship to NATO and the mission to protect and defend global security».

The NATO AGS RQ-4D aircraft is based on the U.S. Air Force wide area surveillance Global Hawk. It has been uniquely adapted to NATO requirements and will provide NATO state-of-the-art intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability. This includes protecting ground troops, civilian populations and international borders in peacetime, times of conflict and for humanitarian missions during natural disasters.

Northrop Grumman solves the toughest problems in space, aeronautics, defense and cyberspace to meet the ever evolving needs of our customers worldwide. Our 90,000 employees define possible every day using science, technology and engineering to create and deliver advanced systems, products and services.

Flight testing

The U.S. Navy, with support from Northrop Grumman Corporation, commenced flight testing of the MQ-8C Fire Scout equipped with the Leonardo AN/ZPY-8 radar.

First deployed MQ-8Cs will be equipped with AN/ZPY-8 radar

«The AN/ZPY-8 radar significantly increases Fire Scout’s detection and tracking of targets. The ability to simultaneously employ multiple modes supports U.S. Navy intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance requirements», said Melissa Packwood, program manager, tactical autonomous systems, Northrop Grumman. «This increased capability enables Fire Scout to extend ranges to meet emerging requirements».

Operating out of Webster Outlying Field, the MQ-8C’s first flight with the radar occurred February 27. Testing began with several weeks of ground test prior to the first flight and continues to progress as the U.S. Navy and Northrop Grumman consider mission expansion opportunities for the platform.

To date, Northrop Grumman has delivered 32 of 38 MQ-8Cs to the U.S. Navy, all of which will be retrofit with the AN/ZPY-8 radar. The MQ-8C achieved Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in June 2019 and is scheduled for its first deployment in 2021.

Northrop Grumman solves the toughest problems in space, aeronautics, defense and cyberspace to meet the ever evolving needs of our customers worldwide. Our 90,000 employees define possible every day using science, technology and engineering to create and deliver advanced systems, products and services.

First Loyal Wingman

A Boeing-led Australian industry team has presented the first unmanned Loyal Wingman aircraft to the Royal Australian Air Force, a historic milestone for the company and the Commonwealth.

Boeing Australia has built the first of three Loyal Wingman aircraft, which will serve as the foundation for the Boeing Airpower Teaming System being developed for the global defense market. The aircraft are designed to fly alongside existing platforms and use artificial intelligence to conduct teaming missions (Boeing photo)

The aircraft, which uses artificial intelligence to extend the capabilities of manned and unmanned platforms, is the first to be designed, engineered and manufactured in Australia in more than 50 years. It is Boeing’s largest investment in an unmanned aircraft outside of the United States.

As the first of three prototypes for Australia’s Loyal Wingman Advanced Development Program, the aircraft also serves as the foundation for the Boeing Airpower Teaming System (ATS) being developed for the global defense market.

«This is a truly historic moment for our country and for Australian defence innovation», said the Honourable Scott Morrison MP, Prime Minister of Australia. «The Loyal Wingman will be pivotal to exploring the critical capabilities our Air Force needs to protect our nation and its allies into the future».

Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld, Chief of the Royal Australian Air Force, said the rollout of the first aircraft was a significant milestone in the Boeing Loyal Wingman project.

«This project is an excellent example of innovation through collaboration and what can be achieved working together with defence industry», said Air Marshal Hupfeld. «This demonstrates the importance of the relationship Air Force has with Boeing Australia and defence industry more broadly. I look forward to exploring the capabilities this aircraft may bring to our existing fleet in the future».

More than 35 members of Australian industry are supporting prototype work across four Australian states. With a global market demand for highly capable but extremely affordable unmanned aircraft, Boeing applied company-wide innovation to achieve those goals. The aircraft was engineered using a digital twin to model its structures, systems, capabilities and full life-cycle requirements; manufactured with Boeing’s largest-ever resin-infused single composite piece; and assembled using proven advanced manufacturing processes.

«We are proud to take this significant step forward with the Royal Australian Air Force and show the potential for smart unmanned teaming to serve as a force multiplier», said Kristin Robertson, vice president and general manager of Autonomous Systems for Boeing Defense, Space & Security. «We look forward to getting the aircraft into flight testing and proving out the unmanned teaming concept. We see global allies with those same mission needs, which is why this program is so important to advancing the development of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System».

The Loyal Wingman prototype now moves into ground testing, followed by taxi and first flight later this year.

Flight Tests

The Emerging Technology Combined Test Force (ET-CTF) successfully completed flight tests on its newest autonomous aircraft test bed last month at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

A Bob Violett Models ‘Renegade’ commercial, off-the-shelf, turbine-powered jet aircraft, is parked at a dry lake bed prior to a test flight at Edwards Air Force Base, March 4. The aircraft will be used as an autonomous software test bed by the 412th Test Wing’s Emerging Technology Combined Test Force (Air Force photo by Chris Dyer)

The flight tests are in support of the Skyborg project with the goal to ultimately provide an autonomous software testing package.

«We are doing function check flights of the BVM (Bob Violett Models) ‘Renegade’ commercial, off-the-shelf, turbine-powered jet aircraft», said Captain Steve DiMaio, ET-CTF, 412th Test Wing. «It is in support of the Skyborg test program testing autonomy. Currently, today we are just doing a build-up approach of expanding the envelope of the airplane, making sure all of our tunes on our autopilot are correct».

The Skyborg program is a developing software tool spearheaded by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) that will allow engineers and researchers to develop autonomous capabilities. AFRL plans to have Skyborg as an Early Operational Capability as early as 2023. The ET-CTF is producing software for testing autonomous aircraft and to make them safer.

Variations of artificial intelligence such as the Automatic Ground and Air Collision Avoidance Systems have been proven to have save lives and aircraft.

The Renegade aircraft falls under the Group 3 classification of unmanned aerial systems as prescribed by the Department of Defense. This classification is for Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) jets weighing more than 55 lbs./25 kg but less than 1,320 lbs./599 kg. The jet can also fly at speeds of 200 knots, or around 230 mph/370 km/h.

«It’s very similar to the previous aircraft that we used, which was called a Shockwave», DiMaio said. «This is slightly bigger; carry a little more gas (with) a bigger engine, not necessarily faster, but it is a great test bed because we have a larger payload capacity. We also have longer flight time and added capability just by that larger capacity inside».

The ET-CTF team, along with their mission partners, produce software for their test beds that push flight safety envelopes to help develop test safety procedures and requirements in the development of the Skyborg program. Engineers are able to install software updates to the aircraft and then study its flight characteristics and behavior to ensure the computer codes produce no harm to the jet and does as it is intended.

The ET-CTF team completed at total of five test flight missions with the Renegade in March, however because of recent minimum manning postures due to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, the team has had to rework their upcoming test missions, said John Wilson, ET-CTF Deputy Director.

«The COVID HPCON (Health Protection Condtion) limitations are impacting the next flight of the Renegade», Wilson said. «There are plans to continue to fly the Renegade in the future, but the flights are on hold due to COVID and our current minimum manning posture».

Wilson explained that while the ET-CTF’s mission partners may have travel limitations, ET-CTF is working with them for future flight tests, and in the meantime, the unit is working on furthering their own skill sets.

«There may be opportunity for continued training as ET CTF works to maintain pilot currency», he said.

The recently completed flight testing in March was a success for the ET-CTF and the Skyborg program according to Lieutenant Colonel David Aparicio, ET-CTF Director. It proved the viability of a surrogate small UAS aircraft at a higher speed regime, greater endurance, and a larger payload capacity than previous test campaigns.

«As the 412th Test Wing continues to seek ways to support the 2018 National Defense Strategy, affordable high-speed surrogate aircraft like the Renegade are invaluable to lowering the risk to future autonomy research and development programs», he said.

Despite the current travel restrictions and COVID-19 health protection conditions, ET-CTF and its mission partners are continuing to make advances in autonomy flight test. ET-CTF continues to develop test plans and procedures remotely with its team of operators and engineers. Additionally, ET-CTF developed some innovative procedures to protect its team while providing an ever-ready test capability to support the Warfighter, Aparicio added.

Remotely Piloted Aircraft

On January 8th General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA‑ASI) for the first time flew a new MQ-9 Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) to a customer location at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. Typically, a new MQ-9 is packed and shipped by GA-ASI for reassembly after delivery. Ferrying the MQ-9 to Holloman saves costs and time in shipping, reducing time for airmen to reassemble the aircraft, making it available for training immediately upon arrival.

GA-ASI ferries new MQ-9 to Holloman Air Force Base (AFB)

A key aspect of delivery was flying the RPA through the National Airspace System (NAS) after originating from GA-ASI’s Flight Operations Center in Palmdale, California. GA-ASI and Holloman air crews worked together to ensure the successful ferry of the aircraft.

«GA-ASI continues to lead the charge towards enabling large unmanned aircraft to fly in the NAS», said David R. Alexander, president, GA-ASI. «Our efforts, along with other partners, are gaining momentum and successfully flying the MQ-9 to our U.S. Air Force customer further demonstrates the safety and efficiency of RPA flight in the broader airspace».

The USAF estimates that ferrying the MQ-9 saved 142 man hours.

«This is the first time that team Holloman has taken delivery of a new MQ-9 by ferry flight», said Colonel Casey Tidgewell, 49th Operations Group commander. «It’s critically important because flying outside of our training area helps normalize RPA flight inside the NAS and provides broader aviation experience for our instructors. I could not be more proud of our operations and maintenance professionals that made this happen».

GA-ASI has flown several RPA flights in the NAS while working with the FAA and other authorities to secure proper approvals. The company continues to work towards a future where its RPA can simply «file and fly» in the NAS just like commercial flights.

Solar Aircraft

PHASA-35, a 35 meters/115 feet wingspan solar-electric aircraft, has successfully completed its maiden flight. The landmark flight paves the way to this new aircraft becoming a game changer in the air and space market, plugging the gap between aircraft and satellite technology.

Ground-breaking solar powered unmanned aircraft makes first flight

PHASA-35 has been designed, built and now flown in less than two years as part of a collaboration between ourselves and Prismatic Ltd, which we agreed to acquire last year. Designed to operate unmanned in the stratosphere, above the weather and conventional air traffic, PHASA-35 offers a persistent and affordable alternative to satellites combined with the flexibility of an aircraft, which could be used for a range of valuable applications including forest fire detection and maritime surveillance.

Sponsored by the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and Australian Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG), the successful flight trials took place at the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Woomera Test Range in South Australia.

The trials marked the first fully integrated flight test of the PHASA-35 system, delivering rapid proof of capability from design to flight in just 20 months. They are the culmination of efforts from a collaborative team of British experts from Prismatic in Hampshire – where two full-sized concept aircraft were built last year – working alongside our engineers in Lancashire, where the aircraft underwent further integration testing prior to flight trials.

 

Going the distance

As a High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) vehicle, PHASA-35 is powered by the Sun during the day and by batteries overnight. The long-life battery and highly efficient solar technology could allow the aircraft to maintain flight for up to a year operating in the stratosphere (65,000 feet/19,812 m), the upper regions of the Earth’s atmosphere.

PHASA-35 is designed to provide a persistent, stable platform for monitoring, surveillance, communications and security applications. When connected to other technologies and assets, it will provide both military and commercial customers with capabilities that are not currently available from existing air and space platforms. The Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) also has the potential to be used in the delivery of communications networks including 5G, as well as provide other services, such as disaster relief and border protection, at a fraction of the cost of satellites.

Ian Muldowney, Engineering Director here at BAE Systems, said: «This is an outstanding early result that demonstrates the pace that can be achieved when we bring the best of British capability together. To go from design to flight in less than two years shows that we can rise to the challenge the UK Government has set industry to deliver a Future Combat Air System within the next decade».

Our acquisition of Prismatic forms part of the Company’s strategy to develop breakthrough technologies, making bolt-on acquisitions where they complement existing capabilities and provide an opportunity to accelerate technology development in key areas.

Further flight trials are scheduled for later this year, with the possibility that the aircraft could enter initial operations with customers within 12 months of the flight trials programme completion.

Glide Breaker

Aerojet Rocketdyne has been awarded a contract worth up to $19.6 million by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop enabling technologies for an advanced hypersonic defense interceptor known as Glide Breaker.

Artist’s concept of Glide Breaker (Credit: DARPA)

«Advancing hypersonic technology is a national security imperative», said Eileen Drake, Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and president. «Our team is proud to apply our decades of experience developing hypersonic and missile propulsion technologies to the Glide Breaker program».

According to DARPA, the Glide Breaker program intends to advance the United States’ means to counter hypersonic vehicles. The effort aims to develop and demonstrate a technology that is critical for enabling an advanced interceptor capable of engaging maneuvering hypersonic threats in the upper atmosphere.

Aerojet Rocketdyne supplies both solid-fueled and air-breathing propulsion systems for hypersonic flight. The company provided both types of systems for the joint Air Force-DARPA-NASA X-51A WaveRider, which completed the first practical hypersonic flight of a hydrocarbon-fueled and -cooled scramjet-powered vehicle. More recently, the company successfully completed a series of subscale propulsion-system test firings as part of DARPA’s Operational Fires (OpFires) program, which is an effort to develop a ground-launched hypersonic missile for tactical use.

Model Aircraft

Airbus has revealed MAVERIC (Model Aircraft for Validation and Experimentation of Robust Innovative Controls) its «blended wing body» scale model technological demonstrator.

Airbus reveals its blended wing aircraft demonstrator

At 2 metres/6.56 feet long and 3.2 metres/10.5 feet wide, with a surface area of about 2.25 m²/24.2 square feet, MAVERIC features a disruptive aircraft design, that has the potential to reduce fuel consumption by up-to 20 percent compared to current single-aisle aircraft. The «blended wing body» configuration also opens up new possibilities for propulsion systems type and integration, as well as a versatile cabin for a totally new on-board passenger experience.

Launched in 2017, MAVERIC first took to the skies in June 2019. Since then the flight-test campaign has been on-going and will continue until the end of Q2 2020.

«Airbus is leveraging emerging technologies to pioneer the future of flight. By testing disruptive aircraft configurations, Airbus is able to evaluate their potential as viable future products», said Jean-Brice Dumont, EVP Engineering Airbus. «Although there is no specific time line for entry-into-service, this technological demonstrator could be instrumental in bringing about change in commercial aircraft architectures for an environmentally sustainable future for the aviation industry».

Airbus is using its core strengths and capabilities of engineering and manufacturing, in close collaboration with an extended innovation ecosystem, to accelerate traditional research and development cycles. By doing this Airbus is able to achieve proof of concepts, at a convincing scale and speed, thereby driving forward maturity and increasing their value.

Through AirbusUpNext, a research programme, Airbus is currently working on a number of demonstrator projects in parallel; E-FAN X (hybrid-electric propulsion), fello’fly (v-shaped «formation» flight) and ATTOL (Autonomous Taxi Take-Off & Landing).

An innovative shape for improved performance & an enhanced passenger experience

Maritime Trial Flights

Elbit Systems UK has been selected by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to conduct maritime demonstration flights in the UK using a number of its Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) including the Hermes 900. The demonstration flights are designed to demonstrate the advantages of using long-range unmanned capabilities in civilian airspace, with the ability to utilise multiple sensors on a single platform.

Elbit Systems UK Selected by the UK MCA to Conduct UAS Maritime Trial Flights

Elbit Systems UK will collaborate closely with the UK Civil Aviation Authority, supported by additional UK companies, including Inzpire and Aviation Systems Group.

Martin Fausset, CEO of Elbit Systems UK commented: «We are proud to partner with the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency on this valuable demonstration of the wide range of unmanned capabilities Elbit Systems UK can offer. We look forward to providing the best possible support for the lifesaving work of the MCA. This is the latest example of how Elbit Systems UK is delivering proven technologies to support operational needs of UK customers».

With a wingspan of 15 metres/49 feet, the 1.2 Ton/2,400 lbs. Hermes 900 Maritime Patrol is a long-range maritime surveillance system tailored for littoral and blue water operations. It features maritime radar, an Electro Optic payload, Satellite Communication, an Automatic Identification System receiver and an Emergency Position-indicating Radio Beacon receiver. The Hermes 900 Maritime Patrol enables persistent monitoring of vast swathes of sea and long coastlines with effective advanced search capabilities to support with valuable search and rescue work as well as the identification of potential hazards. Elbit Systems’ Skylark I-LEX will also be taking part in the demonstration flights.

This will support the MCA in their existing efforts, providing a 24-hour maritime search and rescue service around the UK coast and in the international search and rescue region through HM Coastguard.

Maritime Minister, Nusrat Ghani said: «Drone technology has enormous potential for our search and rescue teams, who save lives 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This ground-breaking project will not only hope to boost the capabilities of our already fantastic teams but will also boost our ability to spot pollution hazards and protect our precious marine environment».

First Deployment

The U.S. Navy’s first MQ-4C Triton Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) have arrived in Guam for their initial deployment in the Pacific theater.

An MQ-4C Triton Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) sits in a hangar at Andersen Air Force Base after arriving for a deployment as part of an Early Operational Capability (EOC) test to further develop the concept of operations and fleet learning associated with operating a high-altitude, long-endurance system in the maritime domain. Unmanned Patrol Squadron (VUP) 19, the first Triton UAS squadron, will operate and maintain two aircraft in Guam under Commander, Task Force (CTF) 72, the U.S. Navy’s lead for patrol, reconnaissance and surveillance forces in U.S. 7th Fleet (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ryan Brooks/Released)

Unmanned Patrol Squadron (VUP) 19, the first Triton UAS squadron, will operate and maintain two aircraft as part of an Early Operational Capability (EOC) to further develop the concept of operations and fleet learning associated with operating a high-altitude, long-endurance system in the maritime domain.

The Tritons forward-deployed to Guam, both of which have arrived at Andersen Air Force base as of January 26, will fall under Commander, Task Force (CTF) 72, lead for patrol, reconnaissance and surveillance forces in 7th Fleet.

«The introduction of MQ-4C Triton to the Seventh Fleet area of operations expands the reach of the U.S. Navy’s maritime patrol and reconnaissance force in the Western Pacific», said Captain Matt Rutherford, commander of CTF-72. «Coupling the capabilities of the MQ-4C Triton with the proven performance of P-8A Poseidon, P-3 Orion and EP-3 Aries will enable improved maritime domain awareness in support of regional and national security objectives».

The U.S. Navy’s Persistent Maritime UAS program office at Patuxent River, managed by Captain Dan Mackin, and industry partner Northrop Grumman, worked closely with VUP-19 in preparation for EOC. Prior to flying the aircraft to Guam, the team completed extensive operational test and unit level training.

«This significant milestone marks the culmination of years of hard work by the joint team to prepare Triton for overseas operations», said Mackin. «The fielding of the U.S. Navy’s premier unmanned aircraft system and its additive, persistent, multi-sensor data collection and real-time dissemination capability will revolutionize the way maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance is performed».

The MQ-4C Triton will conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions that will complement the P-8A Poseidon and will bring increased persistence, capability, and capacity through its multi-sensor mission payload.

«The inaugural deployment of Triton UAS brings enhanced capabilities and a broad increase in Maritime Domain Awareness to our forward Fleet commanders», said Rear Admiral Peter Garvin, commander, Patrol and Reconnaissance Group. «VUP-19, the U.S. Navy’s first dedicated UAS squadron supported by an outstanding NAVAIR and industry team, is superbly trained and ready to provide the persistent Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) coverage the Navy needs».

Initial Operational Capability (IOC) will include four air vehicles with capacity to support 24/7 operations.

 

Specifications

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