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  • High Flyers
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 2:48 PM on Aug 18, 2011

    Three long-endurance UAV programs are reporting progress at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International show in Washington DC this week.

    Boeing's Phantom Eye is making progress towards its first test flights at Edwards AFB, company officials say, with pre-installation tests now under way on its second engine-propeller package. As noted yesterday, too, AeroVironment is optimistic that the investigation unto the April 1 loss of the first Global Observer will clear the way to restarting work on the second aircraft.

    Aurora Flight Sciences' Orion medium-altitude long-endurance UAV has also restarted. The problem was not technical, according to CEO John Langford, but fiscal - the Joint Capability Technology Demonstration funding was caught up in FY11's confused and delayed budget cycle and not released until a matter of weeks ago, so the aircraft had made little progress following its rollout last November. The company plans to fly in 2012, but is not being any more specific than that.

    Another important move is that the responsibility for the Orion JCTD has been taken from the Air Force Research Laboratory and transferred to the USAF's Big Safari program office, which specializes in rapid programs to meet high-priority operational needs. That's seen by Aurora as a very positive move, indicating more urgency on the part of the CENTCOM customer.

    Orion, company leaders say, will be complementary to Reaper. The diesel-powered Orion is more efficient at low altitude and its payload capability means that it can carry large wide-area airborne surveillance sensors on a long-endurance mission. Orion planners are looking closely at BAE Systems Argus-IS WAAS, which they see as a step beyond the Sierra Nevada Gorgon Stare now being integrated on Reaper.

    More details have also emerged of the payload planned for Global Observer. At the time of the accident, the aircraft was flying with a Joint Aerial Layered Network Tactical Communications System provided by Ultra Electronics' Advanced Tactical Systems unit in Austin, Texas.

    Ultra engineers characterize JALN-TCS as providing the same kind of capability as the Northrop Grumman Battlefield Airborne Communications Network (BACN) - that is, enabling communications between completely different radio systems on the ground and in the air - but in a much smaller package that does not require modifications to the carrier aircraft. A pod-mounted version -- comprising two 120-pound pods -- is due to fly on a Reaper at China Lake in November.

    Tags: ar99, auvsi, uav, unmanned

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