Sponsored by The British Robotics Seed Fund
25 May 22. WingXpand Debuts Compact Drone Featuring Expandable Wings.
The drone model from WingXpand, which debuted at the AUVSI XPONENTIAL event in April, has a wingspan of 7 feet. The wings have been shown solely to give a sense of proportion.
The drone was also unveiled at the Special Operations Forces Conference 2022 (SOFIC) last week.
The co-founders of WingXpand were James Barbieri and Michel Madaras. Barbieri, CEO of WingXpand, spoke in an interview about their UAS and plans for the future Aircraft. Barbieri said the drone had just been unveiled to the public, and the team is currently working with customers on test flights. UAS is scheduled to start deliveries in the third quarter of this year.
The WingXpand drone is capable of flying more than 2 hours or a distance of more than 1,000 acres.
“It can carry about ten times more payload than some of the smaller quadcopters and more consumer types of drones common in the market,” Barbieri said.
Options for using ALS range from the oil and gas industry and agriculture to public security and defense operations.
“There are also many uses for our military,” he added. “For our customers who need to fly for a longer period of time, this is the most powerful drone system that can fit in the least possible place.”
Because the team is conducting test flights with customers and expects unit deliveries to begin later this year, they have not anticipated any significant problems or obstacles, Barbieri said.
“We have already confirmed our patented extension wing technology in test flights.”
In the future, Barbieri believes that fixed-wing drones will become more common in the market.
“We really believe that for commercial professionals and our defense clients it will be a system of benefits in five years,”
he explained. This is because fixed-wing drones, which look like airplanes, are capable of flying long distances and carrying heavier payloads than multi-rotor, quadcopter or multicopter drone systems.
Barbieri predicts that demand for fixed-wing drones, such as those developed by WingXpand, will continue to grow in response to FAA rules. “We are excited to be part of the industry along the way, and much of that will drive much higher growth if we see the FAA and regulatory environment continue to mature and improve some rules that will make drone operations out of sight more common in the national airspace ”.
“If that happens,” he continued, “there will be a much greater need for more powerful systems that have the ability to fly much longer and have more professional tools so that operators can have an easy and useful experience.”
According to Barbieri, the entire drone system can be assembled and deployed in less than two minutes. He also stressed that WingXpand gives priority to open systems architecture and modular payload design. For their customers, the payload can be a high-resolution camera, electro-optical infrared (EO / IR) or a multispectral camera for the agricultural industry to assess plant health. The modular payload design offers benefits to government customers, he added, because they do not involve a specific set of requirements.
The WingXpand drone also offers an “Edge AI” on-board computer that allows you to detect objects in real time. It can alert the user based on certain criteria.
“This allows operators, such as a public safety officer, to focus on the work rather than watching the video,” Barbieri explained. “Having a powerful computer for real-time computing makes our customers’ lives easier.” (Source: UAS VISION/Industry Update)
23 May 22. Russia’s Okhotnik Undergoes Final Testing. Specialists of the Novosibirsk Aviation Plant named after V. P. Chkalov conducted frequency response tests of a prototype of the Russian Okhotnik (Hunter) attack drone, the press service of the Siberian Research Institute of Aviation (SibNIA) named after Chaplygin (part of the Zhukovsky Institute Research Center) said.
“In May 2022, frequency response tests of the prototype of the prospective Russian unmanned aerial vehicle Okhotnik were carried out at the branch of JSC Sukhoi Company – NAP named after V. P. Chkalov. The tests were conducted with the use of the elastic suspension system developed at SibNIA,” the institute said.
Frequency response tests are conducted as the final stage in aircraft development. They make it possible to eliminate a possibility of dangerous aeroelastic resonant vibrations and obtain data on the vibration of all elements of the airframe structure.
Such tests are carried out to predict the behavior of an aircraft in the event of flutter. The tests are performed with the use of a prototype that has all standard systems and units installed.
The elastic suspension system is designed for jacking aircraft during frequency response tests. The system simulates level flight conditions. The small-sized system makes it possible to conduct frequency response tests of any Sukhoi aircraft.
Earlier, Sergey Chemezov, Director General of the Rostec State Corporation, said that the serial production of Okhotnik drones would begin in 2023. (Source: UAS VISION/Pravda)
23 May 22. US Navy Deploys MQ-8C Fire Scout to Indo-Pacific. Autonomous capability will provide wide area distributed maritime operations in the Pacific through its onboard sensors and integration with manned assets. Northrop Grumman Corporation’s (NYSE: NOC) MQ-8C Fire Scout, the U.S. Navy’s autonomous, runway-independent helicopter system, made its second operational deployment, and first deployment to the Indo-Pacific Area of Responsibility aboard USS Jackson (LCS-6) providing military commanders greater maritime intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting (ISR&T) capability.
“The MQ-8C Fire Scout is an extremely flexible unmanned aerial system and a pillar in the Navy and Marine Corps unmanned campaign plan,” said Capt. Dennis Monagle, U.S. Navy. “While Fire Scout will still be active on remaining littoral combat ships, the system is being built into the Constellation-class frigate design, most notably the USS Constellation (FFG-62), as well as other ship classes.”
MQ-8C Fire Scout continues to deploy on littoral combat ships with future deployments planned on Constellation-class guided-missile frigates and operations from shore sites under the Expeditionary Advance Base Operations concept, including potential logistics cargo role. Other potential future roles for the MQ-8C include mine countermeasures and anti-submarine warfare.
“The MQ-8C Fire Scout’s initial deployment was aboard USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) in the Caribbean Sea,” said Lance Eischeid, director, Fire Scout program, Northrop Grumman. “MQ-8C Fire Scout provided increased maritime intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting (ISR&T) capability that contributed greatly to the success of the U.S. Navy’s counter-narcotics operations.”
In addition to providing critical decision-making, MQ-8C Fire Scout is supporting advanced capabilities including demonstrating manned-unmanned teaming (MUMT), enabling sensor information sharing across a distributed force, further increasing survivability, reducing risk to and burden on manned aircraft, and enhancing weapons capacity. Fire Scout is furthering the successful integration of unmanned platforms and manned assets at sea.
With Fire Scout’s ability to operate at extended ranges required for future warfighting activities, the autonomous helicopter system provides responsive, reliable, and real-time surveillance capabilities and operates from both air-capable ships and developed or austere landing zones.
19 May 22. General Atomics Eaglet Air-Launched Drone Set for US Army Tests. General Atomic‘s new air-launched drone, dubbed ‘Eaglet,’ is set for an Army demonstration this summer.
Eaglet is designed to be launched from either the company’s MQ-1C Gray Eagle ER or MQ-9 Reaper. Though program work is still ongoing, its first flight is scheduled for later this year and General Atomics “will be demonstrating Eaglet for the U.S. Army this summer,” C. Mark Brinkley, Senior Director Strategic Communications & Marketing for General Atomics, Aeronautical Systems, or GA-ASI, told The War Zone.
Brinkley also exclusively told The War Zone the name and specification details about the new drone, developed by General Atomics to keep its legacy unmanned aerial assets relevant in modern, contested airspace.
The vehicle – which General Atomics first disclosed the existence of last year – was on display in full-sized mockup form at the 2022 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in Tampa, which began on Monday and wrapped up today.
The propeller-driven Eaglet weighs less than 200 pounds, has a span of 10.5 feet with its pop-out wings deployed, and can fly at a maximum airspeed of 115 knots with a range of about 700 kilometers (435 miles) or about eight hours with a payload of about 20 to 30 pounds. Its maximum service ceiling is about 15,000 feet.
The mock-up shows the same general layout as had been seen in artwork and smaller models that General Atomics has displayed in the past. It is now even more apparent that the design has at least some low observable (stealthy) features, with what appears to be a flush exhaust port on the top rear portion of the drone’s body. What may be two air intakes are seen at the front on either side of the propeller shaft. A stealthy chined fuselage with sloped sides and v-tail round out the reduced signature design.
The Eaglet on display at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in Tampa
Eaglet is one of the newest entries in General Atomics’ Evolution Series of advanced UAS concepts, said Brinkley
The goal of Eaglet is to be able to allow the company’s now-vulnerable legacy drone fleet to continue providing reconnaissance and strike capabilities at a safe distance from enemy anti-access/area denial systems.
“It’s a survivable, air-launched effect (ALE) designed for use with the MQ-1C Gray Eagle ER or MQ-9 Reaper,” said Brinkley. “Eaglet provides capability for multispectral sensing and survivability on the future battlefield.”
For the better part of the past 20 years, America’s drone fleet has ruled the skies, raining down death and destruction, and soaking up intelligence largely unmolested because they were operating in permissible environments against adversaries with no air defenses or electronic warfare systems. But those days are over and the U.S. military and defense contractors have been seeking new ways to continue to provide those capabilities while leveraging existing systems. U.S. drones have been vulnerable for a while, even to non-state actors.
The inevitability of such vulnerability is why the Army launched its ALE program two years ago. Its goal is to develop a family of smaller drones that can be launched from larger manned or unmanned aircraft that are able to work together in networked swarms.
“Army Futures Command (AFC) has identified a future fight in an Integrated Air Defense Systems (IADS)-rich environment where platforms must be survivable, attritable, or expendable to deliver sensing capabilities effectively where 1) The MQ-1C Gray Eagle flies racetrack patterns tangential to the IADS threat, at 80 km [~50 miles] distance, 2a) ALEs deploy from the MQ-1C Gray Eagle as the forward most element of the advanced team in areas of expected enemy contact in order to detect, identity, locate and report (DILR) and attack/disrupt/decoy threat assets to initiate disintegration of the IADS,” according to an official 2020 Army contracting notice.
The Army wants that capability to provide ISR, electronic attack, and even lethal strikes. All while remaining “outside the range of enemy sensors and weapon systems,” according to the Army, which wants them to be survivable, but small and cheap enough to be expendable if needed.
ALE drones should also be designed to allow rapid integration of new technologies.
You can read more about the ALE effort here.
Brinkley told The War Zone that Eaglet can meet those criteria.
“Imagine a Gray Eagle ER carrying four Eaglets is flying an ISR mission near hostilities,” he postulated. “The UAS can launch its Eaglets forward into hostile airspace, where this ALE quartet can work in four-part harmony to extend the sensing envelope of the host UAS, provide electronic or kinetic warfare options, or simply disrupt an adversary’s mission planning.”
The Eaglet, he added, is
“affordable and recoverable,” allowing it to be used for multiple missions. “We don’t have pricing to announce yet, but the whole point is to balance affordability with performance,” he said. “We anticipate Eaglet’s price point to fit within the budget of expendable or attritable options. Eaglet will give commanders a variety of options when examining mission needs and risk, while holding the larger UAS at a safe standoff distance.”
GA-ASI is working on several Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning advancements “to help UAS pilots manage and control Eaglet during missions,” Brinkley said. “These ALEs could be launched one at a time, or all at once, depending on the need.”
Eaglet is one of several ALE systems the Army is taking a look at.
The Army has previously experimented with a small drone called the Area-I small Agile-Launch Tactically Integrated Unmanned System drone, or ALTIUS. That system has already been launched from Army Gray Eagle as well as an Air Force XQ-58A Valkyrie stealthy unmanned aircraft.
Even if the Army doesn’t agree to purchase Eaglet, it is the kind of drone that, if it does what the company claims, could be attractive to the U.S. Marine Corps, which has its own Reaper that faces similar challenges in the new world of contested airspace. The USAF is also likely interested in squeezing more relevancy out of its large MQ-9 fleet, especially as work to transition to a more survivable type could drag on. Using Eaglet on ship-deployed MQ-9 conversions is another possible option as is selling them to other nations operating Reaper variants. (The U.S. is the only nation operating the Gray Eagle).
The MQ-9A Reaper is operated by U.S., UK, Italy, France, Spain and the Netherlands, said Brinkley. The customer list for the MQ-9B SkyGuardian and SeaGuardian continues to grow, with UK, Belgium, and Japan awaiting delivery, and many other nations in various stages of request and approval. The Eaglet can fit on both of those variants, Brinkley said.
For a number of years now, the future of using large, unstealthy, slow drones for many combat applications has become questionable. General Atomics is betting that Eaglet can help keep them in the fight. (Source: UAS VISION/The War Zone)
The British Robotics Seed Fund is the first SEIS-qualifying investment fund specialising in UK-based robotics businesses. The focus of the fund is to deliver superior returns to investors by making targeted investments in a mixed basket of the most innovative and disruptive businesses that are exploiting the new generation of robotics technologies in defence and other sector applications.
Automation and robotisation are beginning to drive significant productivity improvements in the global economy heralding a new industrial revolution. The fund allows investors to benefit from this exciting opportunity, whilst also delivering the extremely attractive tax reliefs offered by the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS). For many private investors, the amount of specialist knowledge required to assess investments in robotics is not practical and hence investing through a fund structure makes good sense.
The fund appoints expert mentors to work with each investee company to further maximise the chance of success for investors. Further details are available on request.