Testing the cab design

Since the beginning of the project, Hardwire’s cab design has undergone more than 100 blast tests. “That’s a lot of trucks to build and blow up,” says Tunis. “It’s becomes mentally very tough on the team.” This project is still in its testing phase, but Tunis is positive about how the results will be received and adds that the Department of Defense (DOD) has recently made inroads in streamlining technologies such as Hardwire’s cab design to get to market faster.

He expects that more composite and metallic mixed structures will begin to migrate into the military market. “My first day many years ago working for Boeing as a consultant, I was told that there would never be a primary airplane structure made from composites and look what’s happening today. The military is starting to see those benefits and how technologies can be integrated to improve performance.”

Mission: A Sea-worthy Unmanned Vehicle

Imagine a stealthy unmanned aerial vehicle smart enough to control itself, capable of being launched from a naval aircraft carrier, able to refuel mid-air, built as large as a fighter-jet and strong enough to carry heavy weapons. The Northrop Grumman X-47B being developed by the U.S. Navy is exactly that–a tailless unmanned combat air system (UCAS), or an unmanned aircraft vehicle (UAV) that can fly autonomously and is capable of carrying large weapons. It uses a series of mouse clicks from the operator to take off and land on an aircraft carrier. The UCAS also uses composite skin panels and doors to save weight and demonstrate material usability for the U.S. Navy

The Northrop Grumman X-47B uses composite skins on the wings and doors to provide corrosion-resistance from the salt water on carrier decks.

The Northrop Grumman X-47B uses composite skins on the wings and doors to provide corrosion-resistance from the salt water on carrier decks.

Composites have historically struggled to integrate into Navy designs and the Navy seldom invests in unmanned technology. “Composites are not 100 percent Navy acceptable due to the operating environment, but it is becoming more acceptable,” says Phil Saunders, Navy UCAS chief engineer at Northrop Grumman. According to Saunders, integrating composite technology into non-structural components of leading experimental programs is a positive solution for highlighting composite strengths in naval applications. Therefore, the use of composite skin on the leading unmanned vehicle design is an excellent demonstration of composite usage on the UCAS design.

The Navy increases mission-based carriers

The U.S. Navy is currently planning to reduce its use of aircraft carriers able to sustain several air squadrons and aircraft for long-term deployments and implement more operational based carriers for deploying and retrieving aircraft. If the X-47B is capable of refueling in the air and has an increased mission range compared to other UAVs, it may become an unmanned vehicle solution for carrier-based mission launches.