Saturday, September 19, 2009

AVWK: Skunk works Unveils MQX Details

Posted by Graham Warwick

Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works has unveiled a concept for the US Air Force's planned MQ-X follow-on to its MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. It's stealthy, as one would expect from the Skunks, and it's modular, which is the USAF's watchword for future unmanned aircraft, And it has a couple of unusual features.

Concept: Lockheed Martin

The propulsion system is a hybrid: a pair of jet engines for high transit and dash speed, and a turbo-diesel driving a propeller for longer, lower-speed loiter. Used together, the engines can push the UAV to higher altitudes so it can bridge the gap between the medium-altitude Reaper and high-altitude Global Hawk.

The 300hp-class turbo-diesel engine is housed in the pod on top of the central fin, which is there so the propeller can be mounted high between the V tails to shield it from radar.

The fuselage is F-22/F-35-sized, with internal sensor and weapons bays, and is designed to take mission-specific modular wings. A shorter wing would be fitted for the medium-altitude hunter/killer role, providing higher speed at the expense of endurance, which would be around 20-30h at 20,000-25,000ft. A longer wing would boost altitude capability to above 40,000ft and endurance beyond 40h for more-persistent ISR missions.

The USAF is putting the finishing touches to its requirements for MQ-X, so we should know more soon. Meanwhile, the Skunks' design may look familiar to some Ares readers, as something very similar appeared on a Raytheon briefing chart at the Paris air show. I haven't got to the bottom of that.

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