Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Lockheed unveils MAPLE (MPLE) UAV

AUVSI: Skunk Works lifts curtain on new UAV programs
By Stephen Trimble

Lockheed Martin's advanced development programs division - also known as Skunk Works - has chosen the AUVSI show to lift the curtain on two previously internal concepts for new unmanned air vehicles (UAVs).

The new disclosures reveal how far Lockheed has pushed internally during the last decade on sophisticated unmanned technology, even as rival manufacturers Boeing and Northrop Grumman worked on the high-profile, ill-fated, joint unmanned combat air systems (J-UCAS) program.

A concept image showing the multipurpose long-endurance (MPLE - pronounced "maple") reveals a twin-boomed UAV with a high-aspect ratio wing set against a desert backdrop at a medium altitude elevation.

Lockheed confirms MPLE will challenge the Aurora Flight Sciences' Orion vehicle for a new Air Force Research Laboratory contract to demonstrate a medium-altitude surveillance aircraft that can remain airborne for five days, says Bob Ruszkowski, a Skunk Works systems engineer.

Ruszkowski declined to divulge MPLE's propulsion system, although he ruled out hydrogen. Asked if the aircraft is battery- or gas-powered, Ruszkowski says only that the aircraft will employ a highly efficient propulsion system.

MPLE is actually a scaled-down version of a much larger concept design developed by Skunk Works, he adds.

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