Northrop Grumman’s Scaled Composites has unveiled a new unmanned aerial systems (UAS) model that could meet the needs of several “loyal wingman” projects currently in development.
Named Model 437, the UAS is based on the Model 401 optionally manned concept the company previously developed and flew in 2017 for the first time. Model 437 is larger, according to the company, but its final configuration depends on customer requirements.
One of the more notable projects the new UAS could be aimed at is the US Air Force’s Skyborg program, which aims to integrate autonomous attritable unmanned air vehicle (UAV) technology with open missions systems to enable manned-unmanned teaming.
Northrop Grumman says it could develop an unmanned version of the Model 401 to start test flights to faster advance the Model 437 concept with US Air Force funding. It should be noted, however, that the company was initially one of five companies taking part in the Skyborg program, but did not make the final cut. According to the most recent US Air Force announcement, Kratos and GA-ASI will be the final participants of the Skyborg program.
Another loyal wingman project is currently also underway in the UK and is known as Project Mosquito. Northrop Grumman is already part of the team tasked with developing the UAS and will supply its DA/RC (Distributed Autonomy / Responsive Control) technologies, which will enable human-machine collaboration and cooperative mission management across distributed manned and unmanned assets.
Scaled Composites developed Model 401, which it also refers to as the “Sierra”, in just 24 months and first flew it in October 2017. A second prototype performed its first flight in April 2018.
According to the company, both airframes now conduct payload development testing and can incorporate a range of payload systems with over 80 cubic feet of internal payload volume and up to 2,000 pounds of payload weight capacity.
Northrop says the Model 401 and Model 437 would both feature large internal payload volumes, with both also being capable of external stores on the centerline and on the wings.
The Sierra vehicles are powered by a Pratt & Whitney JTD-15D-5 engine generating 2,965 pounds of thrust, attaining a cruise speed of Mach 0.60 and operating manned missions up to 25,000 feet. They have a maximum takeoff weight of 8,000 pounds and a cruise speed of Mach 0,6.