Lockheed Martin is ramping up long-range endurance tests on its Fury unmanned air vehicle ahead of low-rate production later this year, clocking in more than 200 flight hours since May 2016.
The group 3 UAV has demonstrated a 12h endurance with a 45kg (100lb) payload that includes electro-optical/infrared surveillance systems, voice communications relays, SATCOM links, and multiple signals intelligence payloads. Lockheed has flown as many hours on the Fury in the past year as the programme has accomplished in the three prior to 2016, says Brendan Rhatigan, Lockheed unmanned systems site director at San Luis Obispo, California.
“Several times we’ve proven we can fly over 12h,” he says. “When we flew at [US Army] Dugway [Proving Ground], for safety reasons we landed with some fuel left in the vehicle. We think we could get 13h with some of the tuning we’ve been doing with the engine. We’re finishing those changes now and this summer we’ll measure how much endurance we’ll get out of it.”
Additional ground demonstrations are planned for May at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, where Lockheed has tested several payload improvements on Fury. Lockheed has seen growing interest in Fury as a technology demonstrator, Rhatigan says.
“It’s the on-station time,” he says. “It can stay up in the air and collect a lot of data.”
Lockheed is also finishing reliability improvements on the Fury’s engine, including exhaust changes to improve the aircraft’s acoustics. Another upgrade will help decrease the pace of engine replacements. Lockheed is conducting ground tests to analyze the engine’s endurance and will begin its first flight tests in June. The new aircraft configuration will also include a structural upgrade on the center body designed to reduce damage on the vehicle after the aircraft is caught in the net.
Lockheed sees an opportunity in the expeditionary market for the group 3, runway-independent Fury, with an eye on special operations missions and the US Army’s Shadow replacement.
“You can go into a hostile country, set up a 200 by 200ft patch with a catapult and have it get on station in a pretty quick manner and come back with intelligence information,” Rhatigan says. “We believe that we can get group 4 type capability with a much smaller logistics footprint at less costs. Instead of a runway and a hangar, you can show up with a couple of tractor trailer trucks and set this up quickly and give a similar capability.”
In October, the army expressed the need for a runway-independent version of the Shadow fielded in the 2020s, but would not elaborate on whether the UAS would be larger than the current 20ft-long, 209kg, tier 3 aircraft.