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Britain’s Stealth Drone Hits Breakthrough

by Kris Osborn on July 15, 2014

Taranis collateralFARNBOROUGH, England — BAE Systems and the British Ministry of Defence demonstrated several new radar-evading stealth technologies during recent flight trials of their Taranis drone program, officials said July 15 at the Farnborough International Air Show.

During a second phase of flight trails conducted earlier this year, Taranis flew successfully with a conformal data system, meaning it was able to collect, organize and transmit relevant air data without needing to use an external probe or boom, said Chris Garside, engineering director for Future Combat Air Systems, BAE Systems.

“The air data boom was replaced with a clean nose of the aircraft. A suite of software was implemented to match those configuration changes. The system generated a full set of flight data without the use of an external probe or boom which would have impacted the low-observable characteristics of the platform,” Garside said.

Typically, nose-mounted air-data systems are used to collect information such as altitude, the drone’s position, angle of attack and slide slope data, he added.  The Taranis demonstrated an ability to do all of this while reducing its radar signature by removing an external probe.

“We were particularly pleased with the handling and performance of the aircraft and it fully validated the design objectives which we had set out at the beginning of the program,” Garside said.

In development since 2006, Taranis is a once-secret developmental stealthy drone program jointly funded by BAE Systems and the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence. Other industry participants include engine-builder Rolls Royce, QinetiQ and GE Aviation.

This most recent, second phase of flight testing followed a first phase which took place last year, Garside explained. The concept behind the Taranis development is to refine and advance unmanned stealth technology for the UK and achieve new levels of combat air capability, Garside said.

The trials examined sensor integration for the Taranis as well as navigation, automation technology and communication systems.

The flight trials also successfully demonstrated heat and infrared signature-reducing techniques using an internally embedded gas turbine engine and strategically-shaped exhaust system, said Conrad Banks, Chief Engineer, Research and Technology, Rolls Royce.

“The challenge for us in Rolls Royce is not about the engine but about the [low observable] exhaust system – fully embedded and hiding the gas turbine within the heart of the aircraft. That is essential to minimize the radar cross-section.  You would not see any indications that there is an engine in the aircraft,” Banks said.

The shape of the exhaust is used to control and disperse the airflow leaving the drone, thereby lessening the heat and infrared signature, he explained.

“Minimizing the infrared signature is a highly complex arrangement. You have a very rectangular exhaust that will enable the plume to be dispersed very rapidly — so you can minimize the infrared signature. The angle of the exhaust is aligned exactly with the rest of the aircraft so that the exhaust creates no further signature. The internal geometry is very complex,” Banks said.

Garside said the British Ministry of Defence has embarked upon a collaborative study with the French Ministry of Defence to explore the feasibility of unmanned combat drones. The study may result in individual drone platforms being developed by the respective countries or could lead to a UK-French joint stealthy drone program, Garside explained.

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