MESA, Ariz.–A Boeing [BA] A160 Hummingbird vertical take-off unmanned aerial system will be part of a command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) On-The-Move event later this year at Ft. Dix, N.J., according to a company official.
The A160 will provide full motion video and demonstrate a downlink to a Rover 5 terminal–communications relay–into the Warfighter Information-Tactical network, with funding provided by the Army’s Research Development and Engineering Command’s Aviation Applied Technology Directorate, Mike Lavoranda, Boeing A160T Hummingbird deputy program manager, said here last week.
Over the next few weeks, the electro-optical-infrared L-3 Communications [LLL] WESCAM MX-14 laser designator will be integrated for the C4ISR experiment, and the Harris [HRS] communications network relay, he said.
This is part of the general expansion of the aircraft’s capabilities while spiraling in additional redundancy and capability, he said.
The A160 is like a helicopter but is planned to hover longer, fly higher, go farther and be quieter than current rotorcraft, something that has drawn interest from the Army, Navy and U.S. Special Operations Command.
The A160 became part of Boeing’s UAV fleet in 2004 with the acquisition of Frontier Systems Inc. It first flew in 2002.
Boeing has completed eight A160s; a total of 12 turbine versions will be built, he said.
Boeing Advanced Systems is developing the A160 under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency contract as a vertical take-off UAS with long-endurance, long-range and large-payload capability. The aircraft can be fully autonomous, semi-autonomous or flown manually.
A wide mission range for internal and external payloads is contemplated, from C4ISR to precision resupply, direct attack, antisubmarine warfare/undersea warfare, target acquisition and communications relay. It could even be possible to retrieve stranded pilots (Defense Daily, Oct. 1).
Payloads can be carried in a variety of spaces on the Hummingbird, from weapons pylons on the wings to above the rotor payloads such as satellite communications and forward looking infrared. The main payload space offers a removable nose, reconfigurable mounting frame and a large volume. There is space in the tail boom for lightweight equipment such as LIDAR, electro-optical infrared, signals intelligence sensors and transponders as well as payload avionics. The forward and aft belly bays have space as well. Additionally there are structural hard points and space between the gear legs.
Boeing wants the Hummingbird to be as versatile as possible, he said. The program office is looking at marinizing the aircraft to allow it to be able to land on a pitching deck, for example, and preventing corrosion. There are “a lot of ideas in the hopper,” he said, depending on what the customer wants. There are a lot of opportunities available, such as the Marine Corps Tier III air vehicle, for the 2015 time period.
Right now the company is integrating UHF Foliage Penetration synthetic aperture radar and Ground Moving Target Indicator radars, Lavoranda said.
Other ISR and attack payloads under consideration are the Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance-Imaging System (Argus-IS), electronic intelligence systems, electronic countermeasures, and Hellfire missiles.
Flight-testing, payload testing and experimentation and platform maturation are on the schedule for 2008-2009, much of it at a former air force base in Victorville, Calif., Lavoranda said.
Particular to the A160 is the patented optimum speed rotor technology. It allows the operator to adjust the rotor’s revolutions per minute (RPM) from 50 percent to 100 percent for different altitudes, gross weights and cruise speeds. Conventional rotor systems tend to have fixed rotor RPM no matter the altitude.
“Our ability to vary rotor speed allows us to optimize the rotor, burn a lot less fuel, and the aircraft operates a lot quieter,” Lavoranda said.
The goal is for the Hummingbird, which is 35 feet long with a 36-foot diameter rotor, to fly at more than 140 knots up to 20,000 to 30,000 feet for more than 20 hours. The engine limits the ceiling, Lavoranda said.
The turboshaft powered A160T can carry more than 1,000 pounds.
The Hummingbird features autonomous flight management, a hinge-less rigid rotor, an advanced airfoil, lightweight, stiff graphite composite blades and a composite airframe.
The composite fuselage offers a low cross section, low profile and low drag. The aircraft also has a low acoustic signature.
In May, the Hummingbird claimed an unofficial world endurance record for unmanned aerial vehicles between 1,102 and 5,511 pounds for 18.7 hours at Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz. The aircraft carried a 300-pound internal payload. Boeing has applied to officially claim the world record.