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Season's presents: the end of the year presents are part of a time immemorial tradition around the western world and the unmanned aircraft community seemed to have followed it very closely as 2005 drew to an end.

Without doubt the announcement that the Swedish government decided to endorse Saab's participation (to the tune of SEK 600 million) in the European Neuron project must have rejoiced, not to say relieved, all the other consortium's partners, starting with Saab itself. Quite rightly, Saab Chief Ake Svensson qualified the Dassault-led project as being "the most advanced high technology development programme in Europe today". Indeed, not only would have all the experience garnered so far by Saab with the Sharc and Filur demonstrators been a total waste by being left by the wayside, but it would have probably also questioned the use of Sweden's northern test range by the Neuron consortium. The Filur, by the way, made its maiden flight on 11 October. This was funded by the FMW with a view to testing the platform and to evaluate radar data. The ultimate aim in 2007 for Saab is to demonstrate the aircraft's capability to autonomously fly in the civilian aerospace, termed "Ostgota TMA" in Swedish.

Another group that has every reason to click champagne glasses is the Boeing Australia and Israel Aircraft Industries team after winning the Australian Defence Force's Project JP129 competition for the supply of a tactical surveillance drone. Australia's new bird species will come in the form of the I-View 250, which also has a reconnaissance and target acquisition capability. One of the salient features of the I-View is its powered parafoil landing method that enables it to be recovered in unprepared fields. The I-View can also be configured to include a synthetic aperture radar.

In Germany, it is the receiving end, i.e. the Bundeswehr, that had Father Christmas's early visit and who brought the service its brand new KZO. The delivery of the first system officially took place on 28 November and will be followed by another five by the end of 2007. The first system will primarily and initially be used for training purposes while the second might be deployed to the Kabul area as early as mid2006. The KZO is unique in that the 170-kilo aircraft is literally punched out of its launcher vehicle by a rocket motor, and it lands under a parachute and on a pair of inflatable air cushions. It thus requires no take-off or landing strip and can be launched with side-winds of 15 meters per second. Besides incorporating a de-icing system, another unusual feature of the KZO (given its landing habits) is the position of its sensor unit--in the nose of the aircraft. Stabilised over five axes, this swivels up and down and rotates left and right, but the images received on the ground are always 'rectified' to appear level on screen. The sensor is an 8 to 12pm flir with an 8X zoom.

Launch can be effected within ten minutes of pulling the carrier vehicle handbrake. One KZO system consists of ten aircraft, one launch vehicle, an on-ground control vehicle and a trailer-based mast-mounted radar. In the Bundeswehr this requires a crew force of eleven. The ground control unit consists of three interchangeable working positions that are occupied by the commander, the mission planner and controller, and an image analyzer. The image analysis station allows for image enhancement and recording on hard disc or DVD. The radar unit, for its part, is linked to the ground control station via an optical fibre cable and is used to track the aircraft in azimuth and elevation and to provide its range.

New is the SkyLite B from Rafael. Recently demonstrated in Israel by its manufacturer, the B was developed with the special forces in mind and can remain airborne for over 90 minutes. It is launched by catapult and lands under a parachute and on air cushions. It carries an electro-optical gimballed sensor (a D-Stamp from Controp) that can be used to track targets or watch crowded urban areas and send the information in real-time to its base. Although the SkyLite B was developed on company funds it is aiming at a potential Israel Defence Force requirement. Oddly enough, Rafael has declined to provide any information regarding the power unit.

Northrop Grumman and its X-47B have reached a major milestone by successfully achieving the simultaneous control of four such unmanned combat aircraft during US Navy aircraft carrier operations. This was accomplished by using a surrogate aircraft representing on X-47B while the other three simulated X-47B aircraft were controlled during several flights using advanced mission-management software and air traffic control procedures currently used by Navy aircraft carriers. The demonstration illustrated the controller's ability to guide all four aircraft through the approach, wave-off and traffic pattern procedures.

Turning to another Northrop Grumman development programme, the Fire Scout, the company announced that it had successfully conducted a critical design review of its four-bladed rotor MQ-8B. According to Northrop Grumman this moves the programme one step closer to fullscale production of the aircraft system for the US Navy. The review, which also included the Navy and the US Army programme teams (the latter in view of the Future Combat System programme), covered the air vehicle design, avionics and payload architecture, communications and data links, ship- and land-based launch and recovery and the ability to integrate future payloads onto the aircraft.

Engines

Hirth has developed what appears to be the world's first 45-kW, heavy fuel, two-stroke engine. It might be useful to point out here that this does not mean that the engine is a diesel. On the contrary, it runs like a normal sparked petrol engine, but runs efficiently on kerosene. There is a large demand for engines of this type as light petrol is being barred in many armed forces, which tends to pose a logistical problem with engines requiring the higher-grade fuel. What remains is the problem of direct injection. Hirth has solved this with Orbital by using air-assisted injectors to cram the denser JP5 or JP8 into the chambers.

Apparently, the same system is used in the Mercury 3.0L outboard engine developed for the US Department of Defense and the EP Barrus delivered to the British Ministry of Defence. Another difficulty is that this type of conversion has to overcome is that kerosene does not have the same self-lubricating properties as the oil and petrol mixture normally used in two-stroke engines and thus a specific lubricating system has to be included. Although Hirth has a running engine demonstrator, the type has not yet flown, although a maiden flight is planned for mid 2006. The manufacturer has, however, declined to reveal the platform or potential airframe candidates. Hirth's aim is to develop, on the basis of a common cylinder configuration, a family of single-cylinder to four-cylinder engines producing from 20 to 80 kW of power.
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Title Annotation:Drone Update
Author:Biass, Eric H.
Publication:Armada International
Geographic Code:4EUSW
Date:Feb 1, 2006
Words:1115
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