Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Worth reading about: Scaled Composites Model 401 experimental aircraft

On Jurong Island yesterday, Autonomous Tractor-Trailers (ATTs) were showcased to the media. The driverless prime movers are used to haul cargo around the island on flatbed trailers. 

You can't tell the ATT is a smart truck as the driverless vehicles look just like any other prime mover.

The driver’s cabin on the optionally-manned ATTs grants the operator the flexibility to adapt deployment patterns to changing traffic conditions. This feature also adds to the resilience of the unmanned system. For example, a driver can take over if the unmanned system is hit by a fault or should demanding traffic conditions arise that fall outside the ATT's design parameters or fuzzy logic algorithm, thus ensuring continuity of service.

For places like Singapore that have strict rules governing what moves on the roads and how these vehicles are controlled, the optionally-manned feature may be the only way for unmanned systems to get the clearance required for real-world deployments.

If land transport regulations are strict, imagine the tangle of do’s and don’ts for air navigation.

For Singapore, the optionally-manned feature may have to be a design requirement for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) with an expanded performance envelope and mission capability.

In time to come, we can expect such drones to complement piloted aircraft flown by the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF). Advanced drones can be assigned for those dull, dirty or dangerous missions for which unmanned systems excel at performing as the loss of a drone can be mitigated by fielding a replacement. You can’t say the same for the limited number of manned air platforms, or aircrew.

Earlier this month, Scaled Composites unveiled an intriguing experimental aircraft, the Model 401, that could conceivably morph into a UAS... someday. 

Scaled Composites is an American company not unknown to Singapore’s defence community. 

We first reached out to Burt Rutan’s talented and passionate design team more than a decade ago when Singapore defence engineers needed a partner to design and build an optionally-manned airborne surveillance aircraft known as the LALEE. The platform was projected as a possible replacment for the E-2C Hawkeye.

The name Low-Altitude, Long Enduring Endurance referred to the platform’s operational height which was lower than that of surveillance satellites – the word “low” being relative to the operational height of satellites. Alas, the project did not take off due to export restrictions from the United States. 

But times and attitudes may have changed since then. 

Scaled Composites’ Model 401, unveiled early in October'17, is worth reading about. 

Future system: The Scaled Composites Model 401 is being developed for an unnamed "proprietary customer". While the prototype does not have an optionally-manned feature, a drone version could (in future) complement manned aircraft assigned for demanding missions. Photo: Scaled Composites.

Here is Scaled Composite's news release on the M401 prototype:

Mojave, California – October 11, 2017 Scaled Composites is proud to announce the rollout and first flight of its most recent project, experimental aircraft Model 401. Scaled worked with a proprietary customer to build two vehicles to demonstrate advanced, low-cost manufacturing techniques and to provide aircraft for research flight services to industry partners and the United States government. 

The two vehicles were designed to be identical in outer mold line and performance, with each aircraft powered by a single Pratt & Whitney JTD-15D-5D engine with 3,045 pounds of thrust.

The vehicles are capable of flying Mach 0.6 with a service ceiling of 30,000 feet and have a wingspan of 38 feet and are 38 feet long. They have an empty weight of 4,000 pounds and a maximum take-off weight of 8,000 pounds with an endurance of up to three hours. 

Aaron Cassebeer, Project Engineer said, “This is such an exciting time for us. Scaled is at the forefront of experimental aircraft development and I am fortunate enough to have a front row seat.” He went on to say this about the mission, “Today was a great day for our test team. We had a great flight and we are looking forward to the future test program.”

This successful first flight is the beginning of the flight test phase for vehicle number 1. The Scaled team plans to continue envelope expansion on the first aircraft as they move toward first flight of the second Model 401 vehicle.

Model 401 test flight video courtesy of Scaled Composites

You may also like:
Why the sale of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Singapore continues to elude Lockheed Martin. Click here
US dashes Singapore's hopes for breakthrough in comprehensive awareness. More on the LALEE project. Click here

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