Northrop Grumman Touts Low-Cost Training UAV

 - August 17, 2012, 10:35 AM
Northrop Grumman displayed a model of the Sandstorm remotely piloted aircraft at the Unmanned Systems North America conference in Las Vegas. (Photo: Bill Carey)

Northrop Grumman is marketing an unmanned aircraft that could be a low-cost alternative for training the operators of its own MQ-5B Hunter and the Predator and Reaper UAVs made by General Atomics.

At the recent Unmanned Systems North America conference in Las Vegas, the company briefed reporters on the Sandstorm/Longshot remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) training system, based on the Sandstorm air vehicle built by Unmanned Systems of Henderson, Nev. The term “Longshot” refers to remote control of the aircraft via the Internet. “Longshot gives us the ability to fly the aircraft through the Internet, to translate stick inputs to the aircraft,” said Karl Purdy, Northrop Grumman marketing lead for new unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

Purdy said the concept of the Sandstorm system originated four years ago in response to the high incidence of UAS training accidents. The Sandstorm air vehicle–measuring eight feet long and 22 inches high, with a 15-foot wingspan–is capable of replicating the flight characteristics of multiple aircraft. It accommodates various engine options and payloads, and has completed flight tests with the General Atomics Block 50 advanced cockpit ground control station.

The system is designed to improve RPA pilots’ stick-and-rudder skills, particularly during takeoffs, landings and emergency procedures. It is being offered on a fee-for-service basis. Maintenance support and a safety pilot are co-located with the aircraft, which is typically flown within one mile of an airfield, Purdy said.

Northrop Grumman owns exclusive marketing and sales rights to the system and believes it can save the U.S. Air Force up to $75 million annually in training costs. “Over the years, the government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars replacing RPAs,” Purdy said. “We believe this will reduce that annual expenditure tremendously. For the cost of one Reaper touch-and-go, we can do 100 Sandstorm touch-and-goes.”

The Sandstorm has operated on a certificate of authorization from the FAA and is “first in class” in seeking type certification from the agency, according to Northrop Grumman. The training system was demonstrated in February at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. Another demonstration was planned for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency. Six Sandstorm air vehicles have been built or ordered, with Northrop Grumman taking four and two others serving as test and development aircraft.