Saab’s stealthy unmanned FILUR demonstrator has now flown, revealed deputy CEO Ingmar Anderssen yesterday at the Dubai show. The event is a major milestone for Sweden’s UAV research program, which will be used in the design of future air vehicles and feed data into the major Neuron program.
FILUR (flying innovative low-observable unmanned research) undertook its first flight on October 10 at the Vidsel test airfield near the Arctic Circle. The successful test lasted for about 10 minutes, and provided sufficient data to allow engineers to assess flying characteristics. When flight tests resume in the late spring, it is expected that they will jump straight into the main research program, which is aimed at testing stealth aspects.
FILUR is powered by a 507-pound-thrust turbojet, weighs 121 pounds and has a wing span of just over seven feet. It has the same computer as the previous SHARC UAV vehicle, which has already demonstrated completely autonomous operation. FILUR’s basic configuration was tested in 2004 with a small-scale model known affectionately as “Baby FILUR.”
For the first flight the air vehicle’s undercarriage was fixed, but for the follow-on stealth tests it will be retractable. Subsequent flights will involve an incremental increase in autonomy, but for the maiden voyage it was hand-flown remotely, the “pilot” being provided with pictures from a forward-facing TV camera. FILUR also has removable vertical fins attached. The aircraft should be able to fly happily without them, but they were installed largely as an insurance measure for early test flights. As they are almost transparent to radar, the fins will not affect stealth measurements too much if they are retained.
Data from the FILUR program will almost certainly be fed into the European Neuron unmanned combat air vehicle. Saab is poised to become an important partner, with low-observable technology as one of its areas of responsibility. The Swedish government is holding up permission to proceed with Neuron participation until it can digest a report received last week that details national options. Anderssen suggested that options other than Neuron participation would be too costly, or would create credibility problems for Saab–and the country as a whole–as a potential partner in multinational collaborations. A government decision was hoped for by the end of the year, but may not come until 2006.