Singapore Air Show

ST Aero wants to play in burgeoning UAV field

 - December 6, 2006, 10:40 AM

Singapore Technologies Aerospace is seeking local or overseas partners for unmanned systems development. “We want to be a world-class niche player in this business, as we have become in the MRO field,” said Dr. Tan Jiak Kwang, the company’s director for advanced systems. Tan spoke at the Unmanned Systems Asia-Pacific 2006 conference. in Singapore on Sunday

ST Aero has now flown three types of small unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for tactical applications, and has just completed a second design study for a high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) UAV.

The 5.5-kg Fantail 5000, due to fly next month, is on show for the first time at the ST Aerospace pavilion and is a development of the original 2-kg version presented at Asian Aerospace two years ago. The UAV takes off vertically and can transition for forward flight at up to 60 kph using an autonomous flight control system that works through a ducted propulsion fan driven by a 3.5-hp two-stroke engine. Irving Tjin, ST Aero principal engineer, advanced systems, says there has been “enormous interest” in the Fantail 5000. “The larger version carries a payload of 0.4 kg which is much more useful,” he said. The aircraft has a 30-minute hover capability and is controlled via a Windows notebook-based control station.

The Skyblade is a man-portable, hand-launched design with two propulsion options: electric (providing 30 minutes of flight) or internal combustion (for two hours endurance). It has an optronic payload which is data-linked back to a suitcase-size ground control station. The latest version is the Mk III, which is “lighter and better,” according to Tan.

The MAV-1 is an unmanned combat technology demonstrator with stealthy shaping, powered by a microjet engine. Revealed in mock-up form here in 2004, it made a first flight last August. But Tan revealed a switch in emphasis since then, driven by operational analysis. Rather than developing UCAVs to operate singly and autonomously, the company is working on multiple-vehicle formations, which might operate in conjunction with manned combat aircraft. The program is dubbed SWARM (smart warfighting array of reconfigurable modules). As a start, ST Aero has flown three model airplanes together, with two formating on the lead, to develop the required communications.

The twin-boom, twin-jet HALE design was commissioned from Scaled Composites of the U.S., and has been refined locally. The fuselage would consist of modular interchangeable payloads for Signals and Imagery intelligence. It would cruise at Mach 0.6 between 45,000 and 65,000 feet. Its future development awaits a government decision.

Tan noted a number of challenges in developing small, low-cost UAVs. ST Aero    found that some commercial off-the-shelf components were of variable reliability and prone to environmental failure. The Fantail required a larger aerodynamic design database than anticipated, and wind tunnel tests tht had not been foreseen. Customer requirements kept shifting; “they want the best of everything,” said Tan, referring presumably to the Singapore Ministry of Defence. Above all, there was the challenge of test-flying UAVs in Singapore’s limited airspace.