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Pilot optional for L-3’s new Mobius aerial vehicle

 - June 14, 2009, 8:13 AM

Long-established as a major supplier of systems for a wide range of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) programs, L-3 Communications is moving up a step to offer complete unmanned air systems, including vehicle platforms. Blending the group’s existing elements with carefully chosen acquisitions has put L-3 in a position from where it can span the entire UAS market space with fully integrated solutions.

In August, L-3 (Hall 4 Stand B15) is expected to formally launch its Mobius optionally piloted aircraft (OPA). Mobius began as an internal project to bring all the UAV-related technologies in the L-3 group into a single technology demonstration tool, backed up by a virtual engineering organization. Some 23 L-3 businesses are directly involved. As the program came together, it became obvious that Mobius could fill an empty niche in the UAV market.

To provide the Mobius platform, L-3 studied several canard designs before settling on the Berkut, a retractable-undercarriage version of the Rutan Vari- Eze. The design was further modified and strengthened for its new mission, and was equipped with an autonomous control system from L-3 Geneva Aerospace.

The choice of the Berkut as a platform was made on account of its high performance. Most UAVs are relatively flimsy, slow and cumbersome. By contrast, the Mobius is a 12g-rated airframe capable of dash speeds of 215 knots. It can loiter at speeds as low as 70 knots, and has a 24-plus hour endurance even in heavy configuration.
Demonstrated crosswind limits are more than 25 knots, even when landing in full autonomous mode. The runway requirement at maximum takeoff weight is 4,000 feet. Power is provided in standard form by a 185-hp Lycoming IO-360, but there is a turbocharged TSIO-360 option giving a service ceiling of 36,000 feet.

With a 3,000-pound maximum takeoff weight, Mobius offers a 1,000-pound useful load and has underwing pylons for external stores. The aircraft can be configured with a cockpit for operations where a pilot is required, such as flight in regulated airspace or for testing. In unmanned configuration the space can be used for additional systems or fuel.

Mobius first demonstrated its autonomous capability in March 2007, performing two fully independent flights at the Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona. The ability to take off, fly the mission and land autonomously greatly reduces the workload on operators, who can concentrate on mission control.

The flight control and core ground control station components of the Mobius system are fully platform-, payload- and datalink-agnostic, allowing it to be tailored to any customer requirements. Integration of new systems can be undertaken in a matter of months. Currently, Mobius is configured with L-3 Geneva’s flightTEK flight control system and the L-3 Communications Systems West Mini- TDCL datalink. The latter leverages technology from the U.S. DOD standard link (also produced by L-3), and can move data at up to 45 mbps per second over a distance of up to 150 nm.

As well as Mobius, L-3 offers a range of smaller UAVs that were acquired through the acquisition of BAI and its consolidation with L-3 Geneva Aerospace. The family consists of the Viking 100 (20-pound payload), Viking 300 (30-pound payload) and Viking 400. The latter is slightly bigger than the RQ-7 Shadow and can carry 65 pounds for up to 12 hours. Viking-series UAVs share the common core architecture of the Mobius, with similar ground control elements.

L-3 offers a wide range of sensor payloads itself, although the open architecture of the Mobius and Viking series provides for a wealth of options. One of L-3’s most popular current offerings, and a natural choice for Mobius, is the Wescam MX-15 EO/IR turret. Recognizing the growing demand for smaller tactical UAVs, L-3 Wescam is developing a smaller MX-10 turret, which is also scheduled to be unveiled in August.