Concept of a high-speed multi-purpose air-launched UAV

12 February 2015

Echo of the Cold War

Х-55 tpLCY

X-55 (Kh-55) cruise missile designed in 1981 could fly over long distances, possessed high aerodynamic qualities, larger fuel reserves and minimal weight. The fact that it had to be based on a carrier-aircraft dictated the small size of the missile, requiring to fold a variety of aggregates – from wings to the engine and the wingtip of the fuselage. X-55 designers were awarded with the most prestigious state awards for their innovative project..

Air launch 

This photograph was made on 24 October 1974 during the first ever air launch of the Minuteman I Intercontinental ballistic missile from the C-5 Galaxy carrier-aircraft. Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State, used this historic launch as a diplomatic leverage to convince the USSR to sign SALT II treaty in 1979.

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Bede BD-5 airplane (first flight in September 1971, 150 airplanes produced) got a chance for a second life in 2011 thanks to the successful design solutions used in this plane. BD-5 is equipped with TJ-100 engine produced in the Czech Republic, which made it a modern and affordable mini-jet on the market..

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Return delivery

 Soviet engineers designed X-55 (Kh-55) “Kent” cruise missile as a response to American BGM-109 Tomahawk (time frames of design proccess 1972-1980). The missile, as well as its modifications, has surpassed its rival across the Atlantic in terms of design solutions and technical specifications. 

It explains why the production of X-55 was transferred from Kharkiv State Aircraft Manufacturing Company (Kharkiv, Ukraine) to “Avitek” Vyatka Machine Building Enterprise (Kirov, Russia) in 1986, which was just a few years before the downfall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the emergence of dozens of new nation-states, including independent Ukraine. According to the Russian media, the Kirov-based plant still produces this fearsome weapon. 

Technical idea of X-55 could be modernised further in order to ensure its return as an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which would fill a niche in the multi-purpose high-speed UAVs market that could reach the speed of 800 km/h. By using a flying aircraft as a launching pad, as well as a feature of the UAV return back to the vehicle after the mission (see the Newsletter from 5 September 2012), it would enable to conduct a quick, secure and cheap (1) monitoring (2) delivery of small cargoes (up to 100 kg) with an opportunity to deploy it through a mini-ramp and (3) combat missions. 

The main difference between Kent 2.0 UAV concept from X-55 is the use of modern carbon composite materials, a Czech-made TJ-100 turbojet engine with FADEC system and a lifetime of 3,600 flight hours, as well as modern rotating cameras (three camera gimbal, multiple camera configurations) instaled under the glass fairing UAV.

Project features

One of the key tasks to solve in the Kent 2.0 UAV is what type of engine should be used.

All positive features of MS-400 notwithstanding, the UAV requires an extended lifetime in order to return back to the carrier-aircraft and to be used multiple times. TJ-100 Turbojet engine designed and produced by PBS Velká Bíteš (Czech Republic) can fulfil these requirements. After it acquired an EU certificate and a history of a successful use of more than 500 engines since 2008, TJ-100 became the preferable option for many innovative projects. The project has promising commercial perspectives, considering that the engine is equipped with FADEC system and has a comfortable price of 50,000 EUR.

Innovations and Continuity. 

 AN-72 / 74 were considered as carrier-airplanes for Kent 2.0 UAV, mainly because of the former excellent flight characteristics and a long-term exploitation history, including its use in military action. The high positioning of engines and opportunities to attach Kent 2.0 UAVs under the wing racks (AN-72P) or in the reel holder inside the aircraft also played in favour of choosing AN-72 / 74 as the base for a new UAV.  Kent 2.0 UAV would be equipped with a non-satellite control system that operators have in AN-74 cabin (working space for a UAV operator and a necessary payload would take up to 8 working places).

Such a system would enable independent control of the eight UAVs at the distance of up to 100 km from the carrier-aircraft. The UAVs would be able to fly further for two hours, using waypoints with GPS coordinates. It is also important that Kent 2.0 UAV would be able to fulfil its tasks on lower height (from 50m) at a speed of 0.7 Mach. Once Kent 2.0 UAV enters a 100 km zone from the carrier-aircraft, it transfers collected visual information to the operator if necessary. The UAV operator and the airplanes’ loadmaster are responsible for mooring of the UAV back to AN-74. AN-178 and Embraer KC-390 could be used as option carrier-airplanes for the UAV. An approximate price for Kent 2.0 UAV is estimated to be between $400,000 and $500,000 (actual product only). This is considerably cheaper than the $1.59 million worth BGM-109 Tomahawk that could be used just once. The price for X-55 is not available for the public use, however, it seems to be relatively similar to that of the U.S. missile.

An-74 & Kent 2.0 MAIN MAIN 1
IMG 4443 1
IMG 4438

TJ-100 Turbojet test (Kiev, 13 February 2015) 

🔳 2015


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© Pavel Naumenko / Library and Information Science Resources 2014