Boeing reveals drone that can refuel jets in midair

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Boeing’s defence arm has unveiled a radical unmanned drone that can refuel fighter jets in mid air.

The small, unnamed craft will be carried on warships and catapulted into the air in the same way fighter jets are.

It will be able to refuel the F/A-18 Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler, and F-35C fighters – and means they can stay at the battlefront for far longer.

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Boeing’s MQ-25 unmanned aircraft system is completing engine runs before heading to the flight ramp for deck handling demonstrations next year. The aircraft is designed to provide the U.S. Navy with refueling capabilities for the F/A-18 Super Hornet, Boeing EA-18G Growler, and Lockheed Martin F-35C fighters

Boeing’s MQ-25 unmanned aircraft system is completing engine runs before heading to the flight ramp for deck handling demonstrations next year. The aircraft is designed to provide the U.S. Navy with refueling capabilities for the F/A-18 Super Hornet, Boeing EA-18G Growler, and Lockheed Martin F-35C fighters

HOW IT WILL WORK 

The MQ-25 ‘Stingray’ will be launched from the deck of a warship using the same catapult used to launch fighter jets.

The unmanned craft will be able to fly to a safe area near the battlefront and refuel aircraft in the air.

It will be able to deliver about 15,000 pounds of fuel 500 nautical miles from the carrier.

Human operators aboard the carrier will be able to direct the drone via radio and satellite. 

On deck, the crew will remotely guide the aircraft around planes and people using a handheld controller. 

 

The aerospace giant’s defence arm teased the new craft, covered in a black cloth, on Twitter earlier this week, boasting it will ‘change future air power’.

Many had believed it was a radical new craft using electric ‘hairdryer’ to allow it to land and take off vertically – a project Boeing is still believed to be working on. 

‘Boeing’s MQ-25 unmanned aircraft system is completing engine runs before heading to the flight ramp for deck handling demonstrations next year,’ the aerospace giant said.

‘The aircraft is designed to provide the U.S. Navy with refueling capabilities that would extend the combat range of deployed Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Boeing EA-18G Growler, and Lockheed Martin F-35C fighters. 

The new craft will compete in a US Navy contest to find a refuelling drone.

The craft, seen hidden under a cloth, was at first believed to be a radical new craft using electric 'hairdryer' to allow it to land and take off vertically.

The craft, seen hidden under a cloth, was at first believed to be a radical new craft using electric 'hairdryer' to allow it to land and take off vertically.

The craft, seen hidden under a cloth, was at first believed to be a radical new craft using electric ‘hairdryer’ to allow it to land and take off vertically.

Through its MQ-25 competition, the Navy is seeking unmanned refueling capabilities that would extend the combat range of deployed Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Boeing EA-18G Growler, and Lockheed Martin F-35C fighters. 

The MQ-25 will also have to seamlessly integrate with a carrier’s catapult and launch and recovery systems, allowing it to use all of the same systems as the fighter jets it will refuel.

‘Boeing has been delivering carrier aircraft to the Navy for almost 90 years,’ said Don ‘BD’ Gaddis, a retired admiral who leads the refueling system program for Boeing’s Phantom Works technology organization. 

‘Our expertise gives us confidence in our approach. 

‘We will be ready for flight testing when the engineering and manufacturing development contract is awarded.’

Boeing's entry will compete against craft from Lockheed Martin and General Atomics to win a lucrative US Navy contract. Pictured, General Atomics bid for the contest.

Boeing's entry will compete against craft from Lockheed Martin and General Atomics to win a lucrative US Navy contract. Pictured, General Atomics bid for the contest.

Boeing’s entry will compete against craft from Lockheed Martin and General Atomics to win a lucrative US Navy contract. Pictured, General Atomics bid for the contest.

The UAS is completing engine runs before heading to the flight ramp for deck handling demonstrations early next year.

The Navy issued its final request for proposals in October, and proposals are due Jan. 3rd. 

A contract award is expected in September 2018, and The Pentagon has earmarked $2.16 billion for the Navy drone program through fiscal 2021, though the contract’s total value would be larger. 

‘The MQ-25 will give us the ability to extend the air wing out probably 300 or 400 miles beyond where we typically go,’ Air Boss Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker said in the September issue of Proceedings. 

‘That will extend the reach of the air wing, and when we combine that with additional weapons we are buying, we will get an impressive reach.’

While the Navy has been reluctant about the specific goals of the program, the service’s basic requirements will have the Stingray deliver about 15,000 pounds of fuel 500 nautical miles from the carrier.

BOEING’S PHANTOM SWIFT

Many had thoguht the project could be boeing’s Phantom Swift – which the firm is still believed to be developing.

Boeing’s Phantom Swift was a Boeing Phantom Works program that was being developed for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) under the VTOL X-Plane competition – but was ultimately beaten by Aurora’s entry.

Boeing's Phantom Swift: The design leverages two large fans buried in the aircraft's fuselage to provide vertical lift and a pair of swiveling wingtip fans for stability and control during hover and for propulsion during forward flight.

Boeing's Phantom Swift: The design leverages two large fans buried in the aircraft's fuselage to provide vertical lift and a pair of swiveling wingtip fans for stability and control during hover and for propulsion during forward flight.

Boeing’s Phantom Swift: The design leverages two large fans buried in the aircraft’s fuselage to provide vertical lift and a pair of swiveling wingtip fans for stability and control during hover and for propulsion during forward flight.

The design leverages two large fans buried in the aircraft’s fuselage to provide vertical lift and a pair of swiveling wingtip fans for stability and control during hover and for propulsion during forward flight. 

The idea is to have one or two General Electric CT7-8 turbines produce power to drive all these fans electrically, although an early prototype might not include a full hybrid electric drive system. 

Boeing says this configuration is far more efficient than a normal helicopter and DARPA’s original design goals included hitting speeds beyond 300 knots and carry 4,000lbs. 

The design leverages two large fans buried in the aircraft's fuselage to provide vertical lift

The design leverages two large fans buried in the aircraft's fuselage to provide vertical lift

The design leverages two large fans buried in the aircraft’s fuselage to provide vertical lift

Earlier this year, the first prototype of the LightningStrike, Darpa's vertical take-off and landing experimental aircraft project took to the air - and maybe of its capabilities could be in the new craft.

Earlier this year, the first prototype of the LightningStrike, Darpa's vertical take-off and landing experimental aircraft project took to the air - and maybe of its capabilities could be in the new craft.

Earlier this year, the first prototype of the LightningStrike, Darpa’s vertical take-off and landing experimental aircraft project took to the air – and maybe of its capabilities could be in the new craft.

The current effective strike radius of a Super Hornet is about 450 miles, and the MQ-25 could extend the range to more than 700 nautical miles.

Of the four companies vying for the business, General Atomics has released the first complete images of its planned bid for Stingray.

Before the unveiling,  speculation has so far said it could anything from a new spaceplane to an electric fighter jet. 

Earlier this year Boeing bought Aurora Flight Sciences Corp, which is developing the autonomous, electric-powered and long-flight-duration aircraft for its commercial and military businesses. 

Last year, Aurora won a contract for more than $89 million for the vertical take off and landing X-plane, beating Boeing in the process.

Aurora has designed, produced and flown more than 30 unmanned air vehicles since its inception and has collaborated with Boeing on the rapid prototyping of innovative aircraft and structural assemblies for both military and commercial applications during the last decade.

The radical design combines fixed-wing technology from planes with rotary-wing technology from helicopters. 

It has two large rear wings and two smaller front canards, short wings mounted near the nose of the aircraft. 

BOEING’S SECRET SPACEPLANE 

The mysterious X-37b spaceplane has captured the imagination of many, with some suggesting it is a spy plane and others who think it could be a space bomber. 

But now its big brother is one step closer to being built.

The project, known as XS-1, is expected to debut in 2020, and military bosses claim it will ‘bolster national security by providing short-notice, low-cost access to space.’

 

The engine would drive 24 ducted fans, nine integrated into each wing and three inside each canard.

Aurora, the firm behind the radical craft, previously told Defence One ‘there’s quite a bit of interest’ in a laser-armed version of the drone, particularly for use in Marine Corps missions.

Aurora Flight Sciences said the subscale version proved the radical theory behind the craft.

The subscale aircraft weighs 325 pounds and is a 20% scale flight model of the full scale demonstrator Aurora will build for Darpa in the next 24 months.

Boeing, meanwhile, was developing its own VTOL, known as Phantom swift – and the new craft could be a hybrid of them both.

‘The aerospace industry is going to be changing’ and the acquisition positions Boeing strategically ‘for whatever that future may be,’ Boeing Chief Technology Officer Greg Hyslop said on a conference call with reporters.

The deal could face regulatory obstacles, but the company hopes to complete the purchase this year, Hyslop said.

THE AURORA ‘HAIRDRYER’ SPECS 

 Aurora, the firm recently bought by Boeing, was developing a radical ‘hairdryer’ VTOL that could form the basis of the new craft.

It can:

Achieve a top sustained flight speed of 300 knots (556 km/h) to 400 knots (741km/h).

Raise aircraft hover efficiency from 60 per cent to at least 75 per cent.

Present a ‘more favourable’ cruise lift-to-drag ratio of at least 10, up from 5-6.

Carry a useful load of at least 40 per cent of the vehicle’s projected gross weight of 10,000-12,000 pounds (4,500-5,444kg).

Perform flight tests in 2018

 

Boeing’s move could help Zunum Aero, a Seattle-area company aiming to bring a hybrid-electric regional airliner to market in 2022. Boeing and JetBlue Airways Corp have both made venture capital investments in Zunum.

Boeing will maintain Manassas, Virginia-based Aurora as a separate unit reporting through Boeing’s engineering, test and technology division, which is headed by Hyslop. 

 

 





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