ST Aerospace Shows Off Latest UAV

 - February 13, 2012, 9:45 PM
ST Aerospace's Skyblade IV UAV.

The latest UAV from ST Aerospace, the Skyblade 360–a mini-UAV that has been designed to use fuel cell technology to extend its endurance to an impressive six hours–is on display for the first time here at the show. ST Engineering has identified unmanned systems as one of seven competency clusters within its aerospace sector, and has been working with DSO National Laboratories to develop a number of vehicles.

Skyblade 360 draws on the technology and general configuration already developed for the Skyblade III, but the new vehicle is larger, with a wingspan of 9.8 feet as opposed to 8.5 feet, and a maximum takeoff weight of 20 pounds compared with 11 pounds. Performance is also improved, with a doubling in operating altitude to 3,000 feet, and an increase in range to more than nine miles.

Like the Skyblade III, the 360 system is man-packable and is designed to be employed by a two-person crew operating in the field. The vehicle launches from a portable rail assembly, and is controlled from a new ruggedized console system that is common with other ST Aerospace UAVs. The mission is accomplished autonomously, but the operator has the flexibility to change routing and tasking inflight, as necessary.

Skyblade 360 has a modular payload/power source pod and can carry a variety of sensors in the front of the pod. The main section of the pod houses the power source, which is interchangeable between a battery and a fuel cell. With battery power the UAV has an endurance of three hours (the “3 x 60-minute” configuration), but with fuel cell power that rises to six hours (the “360-minute” configuration). ST Aerospace has flown the battery-powered version and hopes to begin tests of the fuel cell version next year.

Meanwhile, ST Aerospace is preparing to deliver the first Skyblade IV to a customer (presumably the Singapore armed forces) in the second half of this year. This UAV made its first flight in 2010, and ST Aerospace has now built more than 10 for trials, and in advance of deliveries. Owing to the heavy demand on airspace here in Singapore, ST Aerospace performs its larger vehicle tests at overseas locations, such as Australia and South Africa.

Skyblade IV is a larger (154 pounds max takeoff weight) UAV that launches from a towed-rail catapult. The vehicle carries a 26-pound payload and has an endurance of up to 12 hours, before landing using an automatic precision parachute recovery system. The UAV has four sturdy legs to protect its precious sensor package on touchdown. The legs are fitted with skids, which were found to offer better protection across a range of terrains than the small wheels initially fitted.