Textron Unmanned Systems is studying the feasibility of a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) variant of its RQ-7 Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which it hopes could be an upgrade option for the Australian Army's ageing fleet.
In 2016, the company revealed a VTOL variant of its smaller Aeronsonde UAV dubbed the HQ, and it is now assessing the possibility of transferring this technology to the Shadow.
Both Australia and Sweden operate the older V1 variant of the UAV, but while Sweden is working under a sustainment contract that will keep the fleet flying until 2020, Australia is looking towards alternative VTOL systems.
"I think they are looking more at the vertical take-off technology, and they haven't warmed up to the V2 [digital Shadow] yet," Ed Fox, Textron Systems Unmanned Systems vice president of tactical unmanned aircraft systems, told IHS Jane's in early January. "[VTOL] gives them some flexibility that the current V1 system doesn't have, which is expeditionary, smaller runways, and all those features their user community is looking for."
Textron is studying adding the VTOL capability to both the V1 and V2 variants. While the basic concept is scalable from the Aerosonde, Textron is assessing the availability of commercial battery and motor technology to support the larger Shadow airframe, which is three times the size of Aerosonde.
"We're currently completing some trade studies … on current battery and motor technology," Fox said. "I think we'll complete the trade studies and analysis this year, depending on what is out there in the commercial market.
"We could be flying a technology demonstrator sometime next year if the technology exists. What we don't want to be doing is developing a brand new motor and brand new lithium technology. We want to make this a low-cost alternative to the units [operated by] the customers that have the V1."
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