U.S. Navy Flying-Wing Drone Moving Closer to Reality
DARPA and U.S. Navy’s joint program for development of a UAV for small-deck ships is progressing toward the target date of 2018 to begin test flights. The Tern project design is a flying-wing type drone that would lift off like a helicopter and then transition to wing-borne flight. The above video is a Phase 3 concept design of the Tern drone.
Tern (Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node) is a joint program between DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense) and the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) that is looking to increase the effectiveness of forward-deployed small-deck ships, such as destroyers and frigates, by enabling them to serve as mobile launch and recovery sites for specially designed unmanned air systems (UASs). The program vision is for a new medium-altitude, long-endurance drone that could operate from helicopter decks on smaller ships in rough seas or expeditionary settings while achieving efficient long-duration flight.
In order to provide previously unattainable capabilities, the Tern Phase 3 design is a tail-sitting, flying-wing aircraft with a twin contra-rotating, nose-mounted propulsion system. The drone would lift off like a helicopter and then perform a transition maneuver to orient it for wing-borne flight for the duration of a mission. Upon mission completion, the aircraft would return to base, transition back to a vertical orientation, and land. The system is sized to fit securely inside a ship hangar for maintenance operations and storage.
DARPA has given a team led by the Northrop Grumman Corporation the opportunity to build a full-scale demonstration system. The program has made significant advances on numerous fronts, including commencement of wing fabrication and completion of successful engine testing for its test vehicle, and DARPA subsequently has tasked Northrop Grumman with building a second test vehicle.
Tern is currently scheduled to start integrated propulsion system testing in the first part of 2017, move to ground-based testing in early 2018, and culminate in a series of at-sea flight tests in late 2018.
Google’s drone package delivery Project Wing 2014 design looks very similar to Tern’s flying wing design.