The U.S. Army's RQ-5A Hunter unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) will be able to climb faster, operate at higher altitudes, and spend less time being serviced thanks to the integration of a heavy-fuel engine on the air vehicle by Northrop Grumman Corporation, the Hunter prime contractor.
The new engine, which recently completed a four-month engineering test and flight demonstration program, also helps advance the Army's goal of using JP-8 as the single fuel for all of its land- and air-based weapon systems.
Heavy fuels are diesel- or kerosene-like fuels used to run diesel and jet engines in Army platforms such as helicopters, tanks and HMMWVs. They are less expensive and more available than the aviation MOGAS fuels currently used to power the service's fleet of tactical UAVs such as Hunter and Predator.
With the completion of its 28th engineering test flight on April 28, the Hunter heavy-fuel engine is on track to be retrofitted into the flight vehicles beginning this September.
Hunter will be the first operational UAV to be powered by a common rail, direct injection, compression ignition, reciprocating piston engine that uses heavy fuel.
"The Hunter heavy-fuel engine is the latest success story for a program that has experienced continuous improvement throughout its life," said Donna Hightower, lead Medium Altitude Endurance engineer at the Army's Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems Project Office.
"The test program revealed significant improvements in the UAV's climb rate, service ceiling and fuel consumption rates."
Northrop Grumman conducted the Hunter flight tests at its facility in Sierra Vista, Ariz. The test program began on Dec. 17, 2003, the 100th anniversary of mechanized flight.
"The nation's armed forces have wanted heavy fuel engines for a long time because heavy fuel is safer to store and transport than gasoline and aviation fuel," said John Holschlag, Northrop Grumman's Hunter chief engineer.
"Our test program clearly demonstrated the capability of this engine to extend the service life of the Hunter UAVs and simplify the Army's logistics process."
Currently operating in Northern Iraq, Hunter UAVs have flown approximately 2,160 missions totaling approximately 11,223 fight hours as of May 2 in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, and peacekeeping efforts in the Balkans.
No missions have been cancelled for reasons other than extreme weather limitations. In June 2004, the Hunter UAV reached the 5,000 combat flight-hour milestone over the skies of Baghdad.
The Hunter tactical UAV allows commanders to look deep into enemy territory by collecting and relaying real-time day/night video surveillance back to ground control and mission monitoring stations for intelligence-gathering and target-acquisition information.
It is the first UAV to be put into operational use by the Army. It also serves as the service's interim extended-range multipurpose fixed-wing air vehicle. Originally designed to carry only sensor payloads, Hunter has been modified to carry munitions as well.
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