The first flight of the Northrop Grumman X-47B demonstrator for the U.S. Navy took place at Edwards AFB on February 4. Northrop Grumman which has been working on the Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) contract since August 2007, rolled out the first of two air vehicles in December 2008 and originally predicted a first flight in late 2009.
Major subassemblies for the Neuron UCAV technology demonstrator have been delivered to Dassault Aviation, which acts as prime contractor and design authority for this pan-European project. Sweden-based Saab handed over the front and central sections, while HAI in Greece delivered the rear fuselage.
France and the UK will jointly develop a new medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAV that could enter service in 2015. The two countries are also likely to combine forces on future unmanned combat air systems (UCAS), by launching a “joint technology and operational demonstration” to run for six years, beginning in 2013. The decisions form part of the cross-channel agreement between the two countries.
While the British are touting their UCAV capabilities to the world, the six European countries that have partnered to produce the Neuron UCAV demonstrator are quietly getting on with their own tasks.
The British government is reviewing a security agreement signed previously with the U.S. that could preclude future cooperation with Europe on unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs). Last week’s unveiling of the all-British Taranis stealthy UCAV demonstrator by BAE Systems has brought renewed focus on whether European governments and industry can or should unite to fully develop such a system.
After pioneering digital design in the aerospace industry 25 years ago, Dassault Aviation has implemented what it calls “the digital factory.” The Falcon 7X was the first aircraft to be produced using this concept, and the result was some impressive gains in manufacturing efficiency. Now Dassault has taken digitization one step further, by simulating the processes of aircraft completion and maintenance.
Last month Saab announced a partnership with Ultra Electronics’ UK-based Communication and Integrated Systems division covering the joint exploration and exploitation of the market for vertical takeoff and land unmanned aerial vehicle systems (VTUAS). Earlier, in May, Saab announced another partnership with Swiss UAV, which added the Neo and Koax vehicles to create a VTUAS family along with the Saab-developed Skeldar.
EADS hopes to persuade France, Germany and Spain to launch development of its Advanced UAV, now named Talarion, a medium/high-altitude surveillance drone. But evidence of any progress by EADS in the Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) sector was entirely missing at this month’s Paris Air Show.
Alenia Aeronautica is one of three companies within the Italian Finmeccanica group that deal with fixed-wing aircraft production. The others are Alenia Aermacchi, which is also active in both commercial and military aircraft, and Superjet International, the joint venture with Russia’s Sukhoi in the regional jet business. The company is eagerly awaiting the imminent maiden flight of the Boeing 787, which will open a new phase in the program.
Rolls-Royce has signed a jointly funded research and technology contract with the UK ministry of defense.