The X-47B is the only stealthy UAV under development that is currently acknowledged by the Pentagon–unless you count the recently revealed Predator-C, which General Atomics says has been built with the company’s own funds.
Unmanned combat air vehicle
We all know that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) present operational challenges, and making them into stealthy, tailless jets and asking them to do combat is even more challenging. But what about an unmanned stealthy tailless combat jet that must take off and land on an aircraft carrier?
This promises to be a milestone year for BAE Systems’ growing unmanned air systems business with the first flights of both the demonstrator for the Mantis persistent ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance) aircraft and of the production-standard Herti. On top of this, the UK group will complete manufacturing of its new Taranis demonstrator.
Alenia Aeronautica is claiming leadership in Europe of unmanned aircraft development, following the recent completion of new flight tests of the Sky-Y demonstrator. The five flights took place within specially designated airspace in the Puglia region of Italy, and followed 14 earlier flights on the test range at Vidsel in northern Sweden.
New information on UAV developments at EADS emerged during a recent media briefing day in Germany. The Military Air Systems unit has built a second Barracuda combat UAV demonstrator, and it will make its first flight from Goose Bay air base in Greenland next spring. The first aircraft crashed in 2006 during an early test flight in Spain.
Northrop Grumman’s X-47B UCAS-D carrier-borne unmanned combat air system demonstrator is currently undergoing sub-system checks before final assembly for a first flight date in November next year. Having been developed at El Segundo, the first X-47B (AV-1) is now at Palmdale, California, where the vehicle’s centerbody/inner wing structure is essentially complete.
Shortly before the Farnborough airshow Dassault accomplished the first autonomous flight of its AVE-D UAV demonstrator. On June 30 at Toul, France, the AVE-D flew a completely autonomous sequence. It included moving away and returning to its parking spot, runway alignment, takeoff, maneuvering and landing, without any offboard input.
One of the biggest problems for those designing the next generation of unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs) is how to define, choose and incorporate a powerplant. Rolls-Royce believes it has the answer in a new type of engine system that has a much hotter core and provides not only power to the airframe, but also manages the entire power requirement of the UCAV. However, it doesn’t have the money for the program–at least, not yet.
While European governments preach greater collaboration in defense research and development, three competing programs for uninhabited combat air vehicles (UCAVs) have been officially funded. Yet the aim of all three is to preserve the European high-technology base and develop important capabilities such as low-observability and autonomous control, independent of the U.S.
The defense facet of Farnborough 2002 was focused on new technology to be deployed in the war on terror. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)–once an obscure sideshow–moved to center stage. Though confined to the static display line, Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk surveillance platform–as proven in the recent Afghanistan conflict drew a lot of attention.