GKN Fokker to assist PAL-V on flying car development

GKN Fokker has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with fellow Dutch firm PAL-V to assist in the design, certification, engineering and production of current and future versions of the Liberty flying car.

The MoU will help to accelerate service entry of the Rotax 912 piston-powered model and gives credibility to PAL-V as a serious player in the nascent urban air mobility market.

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PAL-V

“GKN Fokker’s assistance strengthens our business with the capabilities and technologies of a world leader in the aviation industry,” says PAL-V founder and chief executive Robert Dingemanse.

PAL-V began operations in 2007, and flight testing of the proof-of-concept aircraft, known as the PAL-V One, started five years later at Gilze-Rijen air base in the Netherlands.

The first of three production-conforming Liberty aircraft is now undergoing systems testing at the company’s headquarters in Raamsdonksveer, and is scheduled to make its maiden sortie from Gilze-Rijen in mid-2020, says PAL-V.

Certification under European CS-27 regulations for small rotorcraft is expected in 2021.

The company, which is financed by a mix of private and government funding, describes the Liberty as offering “real door-to-door” mobility by combining flying and driving in one vehicle. This flexibility allows the operator “to reach their destination regardless of weather conditions or the availability of infrastructure”, it says.

While initial examples of the €300,000 ($340,000) Liberty will be delivered in 2021 to private owners – dubbed FlyDrivers – PAL-V says there is growing interest in the type for other applications such as border control, coastguard, first responder, military and police patrol. The companies “will explore the possibilities” of building special versions of the Liberty at a GKN Fokker site, says PAL-V.

This will offer “the required security levels” that the aircraft developer does not have at its standard production facility. “This is important as the interest from professional customers is growing rapidly,” says Dingemanse.


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​Bangkok Airways enters U-Tapao development fray

Bangkok Airways and two other firms have submitted a joint proposal for the development of an aviation hub at Thailand’s U-Tapao airport.

The company is teaming up with BTS Group and Sino-Thai Engineering for the bid, says the airline in a Stock Exchange of Thailand statement.

The name of the entity is BBS Joint Venture, which is bidding for the U-Tapao International Airport and Eastern Aviation City Development Project.

According to the Bangkok Post, other companies that have placed bids with the Thai Navy, which runs the airport, are local conglomerate Charoen Pokphand as well as Asia Aviation, which owns Thai AirAsia.

The report adds that 24 local companies and 18 foreign firms have expressed interest in the project.

Thailand is in the process of developing U-Tapao both as an airport and an MRO centre.

In 2018, the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand said that the airport’s handling capacity will grow from 3.7 million passengers annually to 15 million within five years, to 30 million within 10 years, and 60 million within 15 years.

Plans call for the airport, a two-hour drive from Bangkok, to be linked with the city via high speed rail links. There will also be rail links to the capital’s other two airports, Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang.

As for MRO, Airbus and Thai Airways International are setting up a new MRO facility at the airport.

The facility will offer heavy maintenance and line services for all widebody aircraft types, including Boeing aircraft. The complex will also have repair shops for composite structures, as well as a training centre.


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United encourages Boeing to speed up NMA development

United Airlines chief executive Oscar Munoz wants Boeing to speed up the development of its proposed New Mid-market Airplane.

“Dennis [Muilenburg, chief executive of Boeing] and I talk about this all the time – speed up the process, we’re growing, we need aircraft and they make great aircraft,” Munoz told reporters on the sidelines of the US Chamber of Commerce Aviation summit on 7 March. “Having it in a little bit shorter timeframe would be helpful.”

Under the current timeline, Boeing plans to make a decision on launching the NMA programme in 2020 with an entry-into-service in 2025.

Delta Air Lines chief executive Ed Bastian also encouraged the Chicago-based airframer to move forward with the programme earlier this week. Speaking at an investor conference, he said the carrier is “very interested” in the NMA and hopeful that Boeing will launch it soon.

Both Delta and United are in search of a replacement for the majority of their Boeing 757 and 767 fleets. The former operates 204 757s and 767s, and the latter 131 aircraft, Cirium’s Fleets Analyzer shows.

Chicago-based United is in search of a replacement for its long-haul 757-200s – models used on short-haul flights are slated for replacement by Boeing 737 Max 10s – as well as its Boeing 767 fleet over the next decade.

The airline is considering a variety of aircraft in addition to the NMA, including additional Boeing 787s as well as the Airbus A321LR and A330neo programme.

Under Boeing’s current timeline, both United’s 757 and 767 fleets will have an average age of more than 26 years by 2025, Fleets Analyzer data shows. Airlines consider the average useful life of an aircraft to be 25-30 years.

Munoz is mum on what United wants in the NMA, saying only that it will be a combination of fleet replacement and opening new markets. The airline has used the 787, Boeing’s last cleansheet aircraft, to open numerous new markets, including nonstop flights to Singapore from the US mainland and service to the interior Chinese city of Chengdu.

“We want them to launch the right product,” he says. “A lot of us have had a lot of input and conversation into what that might look like.”

Boeing has said the widebody NMA will seat 200-270 passengers with a range of 4,000-5,000nm (7,400-9,300km).

Air Lease chief executive Steven Udvar-Hazy said on 6 March that the airframer is likely to offer two NMA models to meet the different carrier requirements.

“Some of the Asian airlines are less interested in range and more interested in a higher capacity version, delivering the most optimal economic performance,” he said. “Ultimately, I think it’s driving towards two different models. Boeing will have to address which comes first.”


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France and Germany sign first FCAS development contracts

France and Germany have stepped up their efforts to develop a joint Future Air Combat System (FCAS) by awarding Airbus and Dassault a first contract for the project, while Safran Aircraft Engines and MTU Aero Engines have announced a partnership to build the aircraft’s powerplants.

German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen, and her French counterpart, Florence Parly, signed an agreement on 7 February with the two airframers to conduct a joint concept study, worth €65 million ($74 million) for the programme.

This comprises both a manned fighter and unmanned aircraft, which are scheduled from 2040 to replace France’s Dassault Rafalesand the Eurofighter Typhoons currently operated by Germany.

The two-year study will begin on 20 February and is based on an agreement signed by the two ministers at the ILA Berlin air show in 2018, covering common requirements for the new aircraft.

“With today’s contract signature, we are finally setting this high-technology programme fully in motion,” say Airbus Defence & Space chief executive Dirk Hoke.

Airbus and Dassault – which has been selected as the project’s system architect and integrator – describe the deal as a “milestone to secure European sovereignty and technological leadership in the military aviation sector for the coming decades”.

“This new step is the cornerstone to ensure tomorrow’s European strategic autonomy… and keep our continent as a world-class leader in the crucial field of air combat systems,” says Dassault Aviation chief executive Eric Trappier.

The “highly capable” manned combat aircraft will be fitted with “new and upgraded weapons” and be complemented by teamed unmanned aircraft.

Meanwhile, MTU and Safran have disclosed details of their partnership to jointly develop, manufacture and support the aircraft’s engines.

Safran will “take the lead in engine design and integration” and be responsible for the combustor, high-pressure turbine and afterburner, while MTU will develop the low- and high-pressure compressors and low-pressure turbine, as well as having a senior role in aftermarket activities for the engine.

Their Aerospace Embedded Solutions joint venture will be responsible for engine control hardware and software.

MTU chief programme officer Michael Schreyogg says launching a technology and demonstrator development effort by June will be “key to the success” of the project.

Safran chief executive Philippe Petitcolin believes that FCAS will enable the French manufacturer to play “a leading role in the construction of a European defence industry”.

The two engine manufacturers have previously collaborated via the Europrop International consortium, producing the TP400 engine for the A400M.


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Northrop Grumman sales rise, helped by B-21 development work

Northrop Grumman’s revenue grew 16% to $30.1 billion in 2018, partly helped by orders from the US Department of Defense for additional unmanned air vehicles, fighter aircraft and B-21 development work.

The aerospace manufacturer makes the fuselage for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II in Palmdale, California and Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet in El Segundo, California. It also is developing the B-21 stealth bomber in California, reportedly in Palmdale.

Northrop Grumman’s aircraft manufacturing division, called Aerospace Systems, grew sales by 8% to $13.1 billion in 2018, principally due to higher volume for restricted activities, such as the B-21, and the F-35 programme, the company said. The B-21 completed its critical design review in December.

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Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider rendering

Northrop Grumman

In March 2018, the US Navy announced it was buying 24 F/A-18 Super Hornets for $1.8 billion, and had plans to procure more than 100 additional fighters over the next five years. That renewed interest in the carrier-based fighter is trickling down to Northrop Grumman.

“We’re also in discussions with Boeing on a fourth multi-year proposal for the F/A-18 program,” says Kathy Warden, chief executive of Northrop Grumman, on a 31 January earnings call. “[The] plan now has the programme of record extended through FY ’23 for a total of 110 additional aircraft.”

The manufacturer said sales also increased for several unmanned air vehicle programmes including the MQ-4C Triton, MQ-8 Fire Scout and Firebird. In fact, the day before Northrop Grumman’s earning call, the Defense Department posted a contract notice online stating that it would buy five additional MQ-8C Fire Scout helicopters for $55.1 million.

In 2019, Northrop Grumman projects it will generate about $34 billion in revenue, an about 13% increase.


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​Surion resumes flight as KAI eyes KAH development

The South Korean Army has lifted the grounding of the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) KAH-1 Surion helicopter that followed the fatal crash of a variant operated by the marines in July.

According to a report by official news agency Yonhap, the type re-commenced operations on 24 December.

“The resumption came days after a team of civilian, government and military experts cited defects in the rotor mast of the Marine helicopter as the cause of the crash…before the resumption, the army conducted detailed inspection of the chopper’s rotor mast and conducted test flights to ensure it has no operational problems.”

Footage of the 17 July crash shows the rotor mast and rotors completely detaching as the rotorcraft takes off. The crash killed five marines and injured one.

The Yonhap report says that 30% of the 90-strong fleet have undergone the necessary inspections.

The resumption follows KAI’s recent unveiling of its Light Armed Helicopter (LAH) at its factory in Sacheon. The 4.9t LAH will conduct ground tests in early 2019, with a first flight possibly in mid-2019.

The LAH is set to enter service in 2023, while its civilian variant, the Light Civil Helicopter, will enter service in 2021.

The Airbus Helicopters H155 forms the basis of the LCH/LAH family. This will help extend the life of the H155, which from 2018 will be superseded by the new H160.

The LAH will replace types such as the MD Helicopters MD500 and Bell AH-1J/S Cobra in service with the South Korean army.


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Kratos more than doubles tactical UAV development projects

Kratos Defense & Security Solutions has more than doubled the number of tactical unmanned air vehicles under development, growing from three publicly declared programmes in the second quarter of 2018 to seven in the third quarter.

As a result, the company recently opened a 9,300m2 (100,000ft2) production plant in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It is also close to signing a lease on another manufacturing facility at an undisclosed location, in addition to its Sacramento, California production facility, chief executive Eric DeMarco said during a 6 November earnings call.

Kratos’s tactical UAVs are subsonic and manoeuvrable to more than 9g. They are based on target drones that the firm has manufactured for the US military. The vehicles are touted by the company for their low cost: a trait that would make potentially losing a large number on the battlefield financially bearable for the US Department of Defense.

The company has two publicly declared customers for two of its tactical drones: the DoD’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) has contracted the firm to integrate unspecified sensors on board the Mako UTAP-22, and the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has contracted the manufacturer to demonstrate its “Loyal Wingman” concept with the XQ-58A Valkyrie (below).

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Kratos Defense & Security Solutions

Kratos also has several unnamed “national security” clients, which could be other branches of US or foreign militaries. In March, the US Department of State approved the sale of the Mako UTAP-22 to undisclosed countries in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

Steve Fendley, president of Kratos’s unmanned systems division, declines to name additional foreign or domestic customers, but says likely foreign candidates include US allies with advanced air forces. Ken Herbert, stock analyst with Canaccord Genuity, says likely suspects include Australia, Canada, Israel and the UK.

In addition to the Mako and Valkyrie, Kratos’s other tactical drone programmes under development are named Spartan, Thanatos and also Project A, F, and Z. Of these, only Project F had previously been mentioned.

The seven designs include clean-sheet aircraft, as well as UAV variants that differ only in small ways from one another, says Fendley. For instance, the Mako UTAP-22 is largely based on the earlier-generation BQM-167A target drone.

Kratos has invested about $70-75 million in its tactical drone development programmes, with Hebert saying the vast majority of this sum has been allocated to the Valkyrie. A significant part of the investment has included developing autonomous flight controls, which allow a single operator, on the ground or in another aircraft – such as the pilot of a Lockheed Martin F-35 – to manage the missions of several UAVs at once, says Fendley.

“It could be controlled from the ground, through direct line-of-sight, through a relay, through a satellite relay, through another aircraft, through an aircraft that is controlling many of them, through an aircraft that is controlling one of them,” he says. “In the tactical arena, you need to have many aircraft per one operator.”

Tactical drones are a response to what US military commanders see as growing threats to aircraft from adversaries such as China and Russia, whose air-defence networks are increasingly all-knowing. The thinking is, by “quarterbacking” a swarm of aircraft against an enemy, the USA can overwhelm its targets.

“Even a short-term decision paralysis, where they cannot decide which one of these they want to target, you just gained an advantage,” says Fendley.

In addition, the low-cost nature of these tactical systems means that it would be cheaper for the USAF to finance an air war against an adversary, he claims.

“The cost equation becomes very effective,” says Fendley. “Typically the [adversary’s] defensive system is expensive. Let’s say, it is a $5 million missile, against a $500,000 unmanned aircraft – that’s a good financial trade for us.”

Kratos says the Valkyrie, which is presumed to be the most expensive and sophisticated of its tactical drones under development, could be built for $3 million or less for up to the first 99 units, and $2 million or less for purchases of 100 units or greater.

The Valkyrie is going through ground safety checks and reviews, and Kratos expects the unmanned aircraft to make its initial flight by around the end of January 2019, according to information from its recent earnings call. Should the UAV successfully execute a series of demonstration flights, the company expects to receive initial production unit orders from the USAF later next year.

Within the tactical UAV market, Kratos is seen to have a head-start on rivals such as General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Lockheed and Northrop Grumman, because of its background in the aerial target business, says Herbert.

“Because they have the target drone background, they are able to bring these things to market – development process to aircraft – in 30 months,” he says.

The company is also able to financially justify small contracts from small agencies such as the AFRL and DIU, Herbert notes. “A $20 million contract, hypothetically, actually means a lot more to Kratos than it does to Lockheed. They’ve got a cost structure that allows them to execute and do affordably these contracts that larger companies couldn’t do.”


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MBDA kicks off MICA NG missile development

MBDA has been awarded a contract from the French DGA defence procurement body to develop a next-generation version of its MICA air-to-air missile.

Deliveries are scheduled to begin in 2026, says the company, and will be used to arm both current and future versions of the Dassault Rafale combat aircraft.

Improvements over the current generation of the munition include an ability to attack atypical threats, such as unmanned air vehicles and helicopters, and those with reduced infrared or electromagnetic signatures.

Its infrared seeker will use a new sensor for greater sensitivity, while the radio-frequency seeker will employ an active electronically scanned antenna.

Fewer electronic components inside the missile will enable more propellant to be carried, extending its range, while a new rocket motor will enhance manoeuvrability at the end of its flight, says MBDA.

No changes to the MICA’s mass, centre of gravity nor aerodynamics are foreseen, the company says.


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Saab gets first contract for T-X development phase

Saab has been awarded a $117 million contract covering its portion of the engineering, manufacturing and development phase of the US Air Force’s T-X trainer project.

Announcing its receipt on 18 October, the Swedish company said the sum will cover activities running through 2022, with these to run in parallel with work performed by T-X prime contractor Boeing. “EMD includes testing, US military flight certification and delivery of five jets,” says Saab.

The USAF in late September announced its selection of the Boeing/Saab T-X proposal, following a contest that had also assessed the Leonardo T-100 and Lockheed Martin/Korea Aerospace Industries T-50. Worth $9.2 billion, its Northrop T-38 replacement programme calls for the production of 351 single-engined advanced trainers and the type will achieve initial operational capability by 2024.

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Boeing

Boeing will perform final assembly of the T-X at its St Louis plant in Missouri, with Saab to provide its rear fuselage from a production site to be established in the USA.

Speaking during a third-quarter results call on 23 September, Saab chief executive Håkan Buskhe said the company has not yet decided on the location for the new facility. However, he notes that its supply chain will need to be developed from having traditionally produced between eight and 12 Gripen fighters per year to rapidly supporting a T-X production rate of 60 units per year.

Buskhe notes that in addition to meeting USAF training requirements, Saab also sees strong export potential for the T-X design. “Many US customers would like to be in the same concept as the US Air Force,” he says.


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De-risking activities under way for H160M development

Airbus Helicopters is working with its French defence ministry customer on early de-risking activities for the H160M, having been selected by Paris to fulfil a tri-service requirement for almost 170 rotorcraft.

In April 2017, the H160M was selected by France as the basis for its hélicoptère interarmées léger (HIL) programme, which seeks to replace multiple fleets of aged types including SA342 Gazelles and SA314 Alouette IIIs.

A firm contract to officially launch the H160M is expected in 2022, supporting first deliveries after 2025, says Bernard Fujarski, senior vice-president of the programme.

“In the meantime, we are working extensively with the French defence ministry and the armed forces on de-risking studies where we are working on several topics and pre-development activities,” he says.

Paris earlier this year detailed in its latest military acquisition plan an intention to purchase 169 H160Ms under the HIL effort: 80 for the army, 49 for the navy and 40 for the air force.

Fujarski says the development will benefit from the work that has gone into the civil variant of the H160, which is due to enter service in 2020.

The airframer’s vision is to create a common baseline helicopter for all three French services, with specific equipment to tailor the platform to the mission, such as armaments or an in-flight refuelling system.


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