Military, Products

Lockheed Martin Readies Ducted-Fan ARES Drone for Flight Demo at Yuma Proving Ground

By Frank Wolfe | September 26, 2018
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ARES can use landing zones half the size typically needed by similarly sized helicopters, enabling it to land aboard ships. Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin is readying the Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System (ARES) unmanned aircraft for a flight demonstration this fall, possibly as early as Oct. 16.

The company's Skunk Works is teamed with Piasecki Aircraft Corp. and Sierra Nevada Corp. on a design that includes twin tilting wing-mounted ducted fans providing vertical lift and then transitioning to deliver forward thrust.

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"It's been going very well in testing with the Marines at Yuma," Bob Allison, Lockheed Martin's director of business development for Advanced Mobility Advanced Development Systems, said Sept. 26 at the Modern Day Marine Expo at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. "Piasecki has years of experience in ducted fans."

Such ducted fans add a measure of safety for ground troops over traditional rotor craft, Allison said. The ARES is to have the ability to carry a 3,000-pound payload and hit a landing zone half the area required by conventional helicopters such as the UH-60 Black Hawk. It is also to feature fly-by-wire controls and cruise at speeds up to 200 kt.

Sierra Nevada brings its expertise in removable cargo, tactical transport, medevac, scout/utility and ISR pods to the team development of the vertical-takeoff-and-landing unmanned aircraft system.

The program has been in development for the last several years under a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) effort. Lockheed Martin officials expected flight testing to ramp up at the end of 2015 and for DARPA's involvement to end soon thereafter to be replaced by Army and Marine Corps funding.

Beyond supporting troops from ship to shore and shore to shore in remote environments, ARES will also likely have commercial applications, such as product delivery and disaster relief, Allison said.

The ARES is in a similar design space as the V-247 tiltrotor drone, which Bell unveiled this week at the expo. Bell is developing the V-247 to meet Marine Corps requirements for the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Unmanned Aerial System Experimental (MUX). The Marines are in the market for a Group 5 VTOL UAS akin to an MQ-9 Reaper.

Bell said the V-247 will have a long-range cruise speed of 240 kt with a 300-kt maximum, while best endurance speed is 180 kt. Bell is aiming for more than eight hours loiter time with a 600-pound payload at 450-nm mission radius. The V-247 is to have an internal mission payload capacity of 2,000 pounds and a slingload capacity of 9,000 pounds.

Like the V-247, ARES is to be modular and to fit emerging Marine Corps and Army requirements for UAS. The Marine Corps' MUX request for information describes a fully autonomous air vehicle that can take off from and land on helicopter-capable amphibious ships or an austere 150-foot-by-150-foot landing zone. It should cruise at speeds of 200 to 300 kt with a full payload and stay on station at least eight to 12 hours at 350-nm mission radius. Unrefueled it should have a range of 350 to 700 nm from the ship.

After an acquisition decision planned for fiscal 2020, the service wants a land-based early operational capability in within five years and a land-based initial operational capability two years later, with a sea-based IOC to follow.

Other likely MUX competitors include Boeing, which is developing a tail-sitting unmanned flying wing, the MUX-1; and Northrop Grumman, which is also developing a tail-sitting flying wing called the tactically exploited reconnaissance node, or Tern.

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