nEUROn UCAV takes shape
With Dassault Aviation now a full-fledged player in unmanned aircraft, or drones, it’s time to take a closer look at the nEUROn unmanned air combat vehicle (UCAV) program.
On February 9, 2006, French defense procurement agency DGA, the program executive agency, named Dassault Aviation as prime contractor in charge of developing nEUROn, a European combat aircraft vehicle demonstrator. This signaled the active launch of the project.
85% of the total budget has now been awarded to Industry by [French procurement agency] DGA, which acts on behalf of the six Partner States (France, Sweden, Italy, Spain, Greece and Switzerland).
During the first half of 2008, all major nEUROn systems underwent design reviews with our industrial partners, thus ensuring overall program consistency. Interface design is almost complete, paving the way for more detailed work on the systems and airframe.
Development tests and demonstration flights
Ruag, the Swiss partner in this program, carried out two specific wind tunnel tests in 2008. The first helped identify the conditions which could affect aerodynamics when the vehicle is near the ground (ground effect), while the second analyzed the consequences of a bird strike on the leading edge of the wing. Results of these tests were very positive, enabling engineers to freeze the final shape of the vehicle.
At the same time, the AVE-C drone carried out a demonstration flight on June 30, 2008. Since this drone features a general design similar to nEUROn, this test helped confirm the likelihood of the new UCAV performing a successful automatic takeoff and landing right from its first flight. On October 10, 2008, as part of tests of new control surfaces, the AVE-C drone flight tested yaw control using thrust vectoring.
Since a stealth configuration is one of the primary technological goals of this program, nEUROn requires the development and integration of new structural technologies to reduce both radar and infrared signature.
The most critical subassemblies have now been produced, to support the development and validation of manufacturing and assembly processes.
A complete nozzle, which could be considered a trial run for the program, has now been assembled by the Greek partner Hellenic Aerospace Industry (HAI), which also makes the aft fuselage section. Once mated to the Rolls-Royce Turbomeca Adour jet engine, this exhaust assembly was to undergo mechanical and integration tests in January 2009.
The experimental development center at Dassault Aviation’s Argenteuil plant has produced an inlet demonstrator, while the Biarritz plant is making a complete leading edge section, about two meters long.
Similar solutions have been applied throughout the production and design process to meet the stealth requirement, in particular very tight tolerances on final shapes, and the use of special devices.
Collaborative working methods
Capitalizing on the experience acquired in recent projects, the program will gradually transition this year from shared premises to a streamlined virtual platform bringing together the industrial partners: Alenia Aeronautica, Saab, EADS Casa, HAI and Ruag. Through this platform, all teams can work simultaneously, securely and in real time, using the same database no matter where they are.
The maiden flight of nEUROn is scheduled for the end of 2011. Test flights will be carried out over a period of about 18 months, in France (Istres), then Sweden and Italy.
In other words, not only is nEUROn beginning to take shape, but so it a real pan-European military aviation industry.
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