Textron's Aerosonde HQ small unmanned aircraft system (SUAS) (Textron Photo)
PARIS AIR SHOW — In the coming months, Textron Systems is to deliver its Aerosonde HQ vertical take-off and landing drone to the U.S. Army as part of the service's Brigade Combat Team evaluation, the first phase of the Army's Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System program, and company officials believe that Aerosonde's 350,000 flight hours and the 1.5 million flight hours of the Textron subsidiary AAI Corp.'s RQ-7 Shadow drone bode well for international sales of both systems.
"We have a lot of maturity in our products," David Phillips, Textron senior vice president and general manager of unmanned systems, said in an interview here. Potential international customers take stock when a system "passed Army muster," he said.
International buyers of the Shadow and Aerosonde include Australia, Italy, Sweden, Romania, Taiwan and Bulgaria. The first foreign military sale of Aerosonde was in 2017 to Bulgaria.
A part of the U.S. Army's Future Vertical Lift program, FTUAS is envisioned as a replacement for Shadow, which requires more than two C-130s to transport, among other impediments to expeditionary deployment. The Army wants FTUAS and its control station to fit in one Chinook.
In March, the Army selected Martin UAV and Textron's AAI Corp. to compete for FTUAS with a $99.5 million award ceiling through March 27, 2022.
FTUAS scout drones are to be quieter, smaller and easier to transport and deploy than the Shadow. The Army also wants its new scout drone to employ “Air Launched Effects,” or ALE.
Martin UAV has teamed with Northrop Grumman Technology Services to develop its V-BAT system, a tail-landing VTOL drone with a ducted fan. V-BAT takes up a 9-foot by 8-foot space, can fly for up to 8 hours at a time and can dash at up to 90 knots.
The Army has budgeted $132 million for FTUAS through fiscal 2024, and a competitive fly-off is planned for fiscal 2020.
Textron said that Aerosonde can launch in 20 minutes after its offloading from a 463L pallet and that the drone's Lycoming EL-005 heavy-fuel engine "delivers benchmark-setting reliability for tactical UAS." The drone can also operate above 10,500 feet density altitude and last year demonstrated a Collins Aerospace TASE400 laser designator payload "to locate, identify, and engage long-range targets" day and night, according to Textron.