Britain’s Stealth Drone Hits Breakthrough

Taranis collateralFARNBOROUGH, England — BAE Systems and the British Ministry of Defence demonstrated several new radar-evading stealth technologies during recent flight trials of their Taranis drone program, officials said July 15 at the Farnborough International Air Show.

During a second phase of flight trails conducted earlier this year, Taranis flew successfully with a conformal data system, meaning it was able to collect, organize and transmit relevant air data without needing to use an external probe or boom, said Chris Garside, engineering director for Future Combat Air Systems, BAE Systems.

“The air data boom was replaced with a clean nose of the aircraft. A suite of software was implemented to match those configuration changes. The system generated a full set of flight data without the use of an external probe or boom which would have impacted the low-observable characteristics of the platform,” Garside said.

Typically, nose-mounted air-data systems are used to collect information such as altitude, the drone’s position, angle of attack and slide slope data, he added.  The Taranis demonstrated an ability to do all of this while reducing its radar signature by removing an external probe.

“We were particularly pleased with the handling and performance of the aircraft and it fully validated the design objectives which we had set out at the beginning of the program,” Garside said.

In development since 2006, Taranis is a once-secret developmental stealthy drone program jointly funded by BAE Systems and the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence. Other industry participants include engine-builder Rolls Royce, QinetiQ and GE Aviation.

This most recent, second phase of flight testing followed a first phase which took place last year, Garside explained. The concept behind the Taranis development is to refine and advance unmanned stealth technology for the UK and achieve new levels of combat air capability, Garside said.

The trials examined sensor integration for the Taranis as well as navigation, automation technology and communication systems.

The flight trials also successfully demonstrated heat and infrared signature-reducing techniques using an internally embedded gas turbine engine and strategically-shaped exhaust system, said Conrad Banks, Chief Engineer, Research and Technology, Rolls Royce.

“The challenge for us in Rolls Royce is not about the engine but about the [low observable] exhaust system – fully embedded and hiding the gas turbine within the heart of the aircraft. That is essential to minimize the radar cross-section.  You would not see any indications that there is an engine in the aircraft,” Banks said.

The shape of the exhaust is used to control and disperse the airflow leaving the drone, thereby lessening the heat and infrared signature, he explained.

“Minimizing the infrared signature is a highly complex arrangement. You have a very rectangular exhaust that will enable the plume to be dispersed very rapidly — so you can minimize the infrared signature. The angle of the exhaust is aligned exactly with the rest of the aircraft so that the exhaust creates no further signature. The internal geometry is very complex,” Banks said.

Garside said the British Ministry of Defence has embarked upon a collaborative study with the French Ministry of Defence to explore the feasibility of unmanned combat drones. The study may result in individual drone platforms being developed by the respective countries or could lead to a UK-French joint stealthy drone program, Garside explained.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • hibeam

    That tells you how far stealth has come when the pitot tube becomes the long pole in the tent. Truly amazing.

  • Ed B

    Just what we need more useless drones.

    • Bernard

      You can solve that issue easily by not being one…

    • David

      Define useless.

      What makes them useless? Is it the extreme loiter time? Is it the ability to perform extreme maneuvers which would blackout a human pilot? Is it the ability to use them on first day strikes against anti air lessening the possibility for friendly casualties?

      • neo con artist

        Bogus performance parameters perhaps. You know, like the Almighty, Invincible F-22 and the F-35, which can kill your pilots without friendly fire. In fact, the F-35 still doesn’t have proper software for targeting and firing. So no worries there about friendly fires, unless you count engine fires as friendly.

        • quest

          Good one there!

          I’d count engine fires as friendly, coz it’s certainly not enemy fire. LOL.

      • quest

        Useless defined – America’s drone warfare in the ME has failed to produce the desired political results AND the desired military results, even though the drones have by and large achieved their expected performance.

        Now the late comer Britain wants to do the same thing.

  • rtsy

    Stealth is great, but can it operate from their new carrier?

    • rtsy

      It was a serious question. I haven’t seen a single mention of a tailhook for carrier landings and thats not the sort of thing you can just stick on at the end, especially on a stealth aircraft.

    • quest

      probably not.

      is stealth really that great? probably not either.

  • Knave of Spades

    No, non, do not share with the French. They will sell to the Rus, the Chinese, and the Persians for hard currency.

  • LHS

    Huh? Drones Useless? C’mon buddy it’s the wave of the future and if we do not parry with drones our enemies will…If you’re hearing this for the first time then it’s a sad awakening…Some experts ar saying that our future military manpower is expected to shrink to about 400,000 with everything else made up of non-retire pay receiving, vacant VA hospital servicing, scrap and cannibalize when you don’t need them anymore, drones and robots. In concert with all of their hypocritical rhetoric most politicians do not give a damn about ‘We the People’, unless of course these people are the ones like the defense contractor lobbyists who are paying for their campaigns. …

  • Bernard

    Just imagine a fleet of these regularly flying over Russia with impunity.

  • Kole

    ^^Sweet dreams…. Good luck.

  • Dfens

    Today it is a drone. Perhaps tomorrow it will be their own manned fighter jet. You’ve gotta start somewhere. This is the best place to start from a cost point of view. I hope our allies make better choices on how to do business with defense contractors than we’ve made.

  • Chris5941

    Quest…Do you have any hard data to back up your opinions?

    • quest

      Of course. The facts are everywhere. You can almost pick one up from the streets anytime anywhere. LOL

  • LetsLobRob

    The future looks hairy…scary too.

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