—John A. Tirpak
September 24, 2007— Boeing officials at the Air Force Association’s 2007 Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition in Washington expounded on technologies to come and some current and imminent programs. Their talks ranged from the advanced bomber to the tanker replacement program to unusual unmanned aerial vehicles and new missiles.
Advanced Bomber. Boeing Advanced Systems President George Muellner told reporters that the next bomber will have advanced stealth and wing-mounted antenna, but it won’t make use of new variable cycle engines because it won’t be supersonic. He noted that integrating the antenna would be the toughest technology nut to crack, especially if the aircraft has to be shielded from electromagnetic pulse. And, EMP hardening is a must if the bomber has a nuclear mission.
On Tanker Replacement, Part 2. Boeing is hoping to have its Blended Wing Body X-48 demonstrator technology ready in time to compete for the Air Force’s second big buy of aerial refueling replacement aircraft, slated for about 2020 and dubbed KC-Y. (The service plans a three-phase replacement effort, starting with the current KC-X competition and followed by KC-Y and KC-Z.) A subscale BWB demonstrator with a 21-foot wingspan recently flew, and Boeing said full-size types could fill a wide variety of passenger, cargo, or tanker functions. It expects to be able to make a proposal on a full-size tanker by about 2015. Besides offering far more internal volume than today’s tube and wing configurations, a BWB tanker could also fly with two refueling booms, doubling the speed at which USAF aircraft could gas up. The program is teaching Boeing how to build rectangular pressure vessels versus the standard tubes and about the BWB flight control laws. However, the BWB would not be a candidate for a long-range strike aircraft. With three engines mounted on top of the rear of the aircraft, it wouldn’t be very stealthy. The placement of the engines does make it quieter than today’s airliners and cargo aircraft, says Boeing.
Very Light Lift: Boeing’s A160T Hummingbird unmanned rotorcraft demonstrator has stayed aloft for 5.3 hours and will soon demonstrate an eight-hour duration mission, company technology guru Muellner told reporters. The Hummingbird can stay aloft that long because it has an optimized rotor speed, an improvement over previous rotorcraft whose rotor speed is inherently inefficient. Not only will the A160T be able to stay aloft that long, it will carry a 1,000-pound payload in a pod when it does so. Operationally, the pod could hold a sensor package—Boeing is looking at a through-foliage system—or a cargo load to supply special operations troops surreptitiously.
Super Long-Dwell UAVs—Not. Muellner says there are good reasons not to pursue unmanned aerial vehicles that fly for more than a week at a time, as some intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance advocates have suggested. For one thing, flying with solar panels takes all the available electricity a UAV generates for propulsion and leaves nothing for running payloads. For another, flying that long—or longer—requires building the vehicles with component quality and reliability akin to that of spacecraft, which would add considerably to cost. Better to fly one for less than a week and be able to service it. Boeing has just such a product of course—its High Altitude, Long Endurance, or HALE UAV. The company envisions flying the craft at more than 60,000 feet with a hydrogen-powered engine.
Two for One. Boeing is trying its hand at an air-to-air missile for the first time. The company envisions the Dual-Role Air Dominance Missile as a replacement for today’s AIM-120C Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile and the AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile defense suppression missile. The warhead fusing and tracking could accommodate either mission. Boeing may yet partner with an established air-to-air missile company on the project. “TBD,” a Boeing official said.
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