Perth, Australia-based Orbital Corp. Ltd. has delivered what it says is the first purpose-built ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) propulsion system to Insitu Inc., a subsidiary of The Boeing Co., for in-house testing and development.
Designed specifically for small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS)-class UAVs, it is the first reciprocating internal combustion propulsion system to be engineered from the ground up for unmanned aerospace application, Orbital says.
“Delivery of this first engine is a major milestone in the UAV propulsion engineering project,” says Terry Stinson, Orbital’s CEO and managing director. “Insitu is very satisfied with the program results to date, and the team is already moving forward to achieve our next target.”
Insitu and Orbital have also combined technical capabilities to achieve low vibration and noise suppression for the aircraft. “The new propulsion system has features that are intended to drive a step change in performance and reliability in the sUAS propulsion market,” Stinson adds.
Orbital says it has been working with the Insitu division of Boeing since January 2013 as part of an initial design, development and validation contract to supply UAV propulsion systems.
Delivery of the first propulsion system will now allow a rigorous bench testing program to commence, which will be followed by flight testing.
Orbital expects successful completion of the program to lead to a low-volume production contract to be supplied from Orbital’s facilities in Perth. This may evolve into a higher-volume production business from new Orbital production facilities, which would need to be established in the U.S., the company explains.
The delivered propulsion system was designed and manufactured by Orbital and incorporates its new Argon Engine Control Unit and control system, which has real-time monitoring and diagnostics of all critical systems, sensor and actuator redundancy, and extensive black box recording capability.
The system also uses Orbital’s patented FLEXDI technology, which enables a high level of performance for heavy-fuel sUAS engine applications – significantly extending the range for the aircraft in flight, the company says.
“Building on continuing success with Insitu, this new UAV propulsion initiative has the potential to evolve into a $100 million per annum revenue business for Orbital,” Stinson says.