Northrop Grumman unveiled a new optionally piloted vehicle in the medium-altitude, long-endurance (Male) class, which is currently dominated by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems with its Predator/Reaper series. The Firebird will fly in piloted and multisensor configuration later this month at Empire Challenge 2011, a military intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) exercise hosted by the U.S.
A heavy unmanned helicopter would be invaluable for operations at highly dangerous sites, such as the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, providing another avenue to address the problem with a greater measure of safety. Technology for pilotless rotorcraft is already in place but so far has been applied only to micro drones and relatively light rotorcraft.
In a significant move, the U.S. government has cleared an unarmed version of the Predator UAV for wider export, including to the Middle East. Until now, the Predator and Reaper series has been exported only to the UK and Italy, and offered to a few other U.S. allies. Long-endurance UAVs are included in the Missile Technology Control Regime (MCTR), a voluntary 34-nation agreement.
Major subassemblies for the Neuron UCAV technology demonstrator have been delivered to Dassault Aviation, which acts as prime contractor and design authority for this pan-European project. Sweden-based Saab handed over the front and central sections, while HAI in Greece delivered the rear fuselage.
Remotely controlled helicopters could be delivering cargo to U.S. Marines in Afghanistan by this time next year. The U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (NASC) gave the go-ahead for urgent development of competing proposals from Boeing/Frontier Systems (using the A160T Hummingbird) and Lockheed Martin (based on the Kaman K-Max).
France and the UK will jointly develop a new medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAV that could enter service in 2015. The two countries are also likely to combine forces on future unmanned combat air systems (UCAS), by launching a “joint technology and operational demonstration” to run for six years, beginning in 2013. The decisions form part of the cross-channel agreement between the two countries.
The EADS Barracuda UCAV technology demonstrator performed a new flight-test campaign at Goose Bay, Canada. The company flew four missions focusing on sense-and-avoid capabilities; auto-taxi systems; flight-testing of a structurally integrated antenna; and the exercising of an image exploitation chain, including an automatic target detection system. The UCAV was carrying an EO/IR sensor provided by Zeiss.
Piasecki Aircraft and Carnegie Mellon University have successfully flight tested a new navigation and sensor package on an unmanned Boeing AH-6 Little Bird helicopter that allows it to autonomously avoid dynamic, low-altitude obstacles, select suitable unmapped landing sites, and land using self-generated approach paths.
Northrop Grumman rolled out the X-47B UCAS-D (unmanned combat air system-demonstrator) in December 2008 and since then has been busy preparing the first of two vehicles for its maiden flight, expected shortly. Low- and high-speed trials have been completed at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, where the second X-47B is in final assembly.
Ankara-based Turkish Aerospace Industries rolled out a new tactical medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAV last Friday. Named Anka, the UAV has been developed to answer the Turkish armed forces’ TIHA (tactical UAV) requirement, but is also to be offered for export.