Leonardo has carried out the first flight of its new Multiple Aperture Infra-Red (MAIR) system. It was installed on a testbed helicopter to demonstrate an initial ability to collect data during flight.
Launched during the Paris air show in June, MAIR has since begun its flight-test campaign, which involved a round trip from La Spezia via Genova in Italy. The campaign will now ramp up to start testing the suite of modes in the distributed aperture sensor system.
Leveraging the company’s experience in developing sensing and processing for infrared search and track (IRST) systems for the Eurofighter Typhoon and Gripen E fighters, MAIR consists of distributed IR apertures. When data from each is fused together it provides a spherical coverage around the aircraft, which can aid with missile warning, hostile fire indication, and imaging, and provide an IRST capability. In missile-warning mode, MAIR can detect incoming missiles and determine that they are hostile (as opposed to other heat sources), providing early warning with a low false alarm rate, according to Leonardo.
The prevalent threat from heat-seeking missiles is driving development of distributed-aperture 360-degree coverage capabilities, while the low integration demand this type of system has on an aircraft makes it suited to rotary-wing platforms that have limited real estate available. As technology evolves, this type of system is becoming commonplace.
Between four and six IR apertures can be placed around the aircraft, each of which weighs some two kg (4.4 pounds) and measures approximately 10 cm (four inches), so it is a light, form-fit system. However, although MAIR itself is being tested onboard a helicopter at this stage, and is suited to that type of platform, it is being pitched for fixed-wing applications as well, including for surveillance and transport types.
MAIR is also being made available for both manned and unmanned aircraft, including business jets, for which a plug-in configuration will be made available. Leonardo says that MAIR will be production-ready in the first half of 2020 and delivery-ready in the second half of that year.
Another system that MAIR complements is Leonardo’s Miysis DIRCM system, which can be cued to carry out countermeasures when sensors identify a threat. This response would involve directing a laser into the missile’s seeker, which steers it away from the aircraft. Together, the systems provide a more comprehensive defensive aids suite, testing for which is ongoing, the company says.
Additionally, the company is exploring different types of distributed-aperture systems as requirements evolve to welcome more modular and scalable offerings, including its Osprey active electronically scanned array radar. This includes up to three flat-aperture panels being integrated around an aircraft, the number of which is determined by space availability on the host platform, the mission set, and cost.
The first customer for Osprey was Norway for its AW101 search-and-rescue helicopters, and it has also been selected for the U.S. Navy’s Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Fire Scout unmanned rotorcraft.