Unmanned Vehicles

Quad A 2011: Second chance for Hummingbird in Belize

18th April 2011 - 20:53 GMT | by The Shephard News Team

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Boeing's A160T Hummingbird VTOL UAS is being prepared to continue support of US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) missions in Belize following an 'incident' last year.

According to Mansik Johng, A160 SOCOM project manager, the aircraft will receive clearance to fly again in the very near-term. Speaking to Shephard at the Quad A annual exposition in Nashville, Johng said: 'We are talking to get flight clearance back. Any day now we will have approval to fly again.'

Up until the incident on 4 September last year, the A160T had been conducting missions with  DARPA's Foliage Penetration Reconnaissance, Surveillance, Tracking and Engagement Radar (FORESTER) payload. He would not comment on operational details being conducted by the two airframes but it is understood that they are being used as part of  a wider counter-narcotics campaign on the Belize-Guatemala border.

Johng conceded that the turbine-powered aircraft had not flown in Belize since the incident and described how various modifications, including 'structural changes' had been successfully implemented. 'It is no secret that there was an issue with the tail rotor,' he explained.
Up until the incident, the A160T had completed a total of 28 flights in 24 days in Belize. 'We continue to progress on that and continue to support activities,' Johng urged.

The FORESTER payload was designed to provide 'enhanced coverage of moving vehicles and dismounted troops under foliage, filling the current surveillance gap,' according to Boeing officials. Before deploying to Belize, A160T had been tested at Fort Stewart where its longest flight had seen it complete close to a six-hour mission.

Elsewhere, Johng said A160T was ready for a two-week long Quick Reaction Assessment alongside Lockheed Martin's K-Max UAS with the US Navy and Marine Corps at Yuma Proving Grounds later in the year. Based on its findings, the navy will make a decision on which system to deploy to Afghanistan for cargo resupply operations.

On show at the Quad A, a mock-up A160T Hummingbird was fitted with Hellfire rockets with Johng describing how it was only 'a matter of time before the customer wants that capability'.

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