12 January 2015
In September 2013, the unmanned version of famous F-16 jet called QF-16 UAV made its first flight. From that moment, it became clear that the modification of traditional aircraft into UAVs is more than a mere experiment. Paul Cejas, project’s chief designer, told “QF-16 UAV is ideal for operations on the enemy’s territory made to accomplish dangerous missions, while pilots stay in safety”. Impressive piloting opportunities that are not limited by the pilot’s physique, as well as the absence of a complex and heavy life-support system on the drone are going to make the process of converting existing and new jets into drones as the main area of military aircraft production. According to a number of military experts at Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II might be the last piloted jet in the U.S. Air Force. The concept of V-24 Softex Aero conversion into V-24 UAS (with and without satellite control channel) confirms the promising future of this area of engineering works in the aircraft industry.
International experience: pros and cons
The Aeronautics Defense Dominator Medium-Altitude Long-Endurance (MALE) UAV (Israel-Austria) was one of the first examples of how a piloted Diamond DA42 Twin Star aircraft produced in Austria could be converted into a UAV. The Dominator UAV (pictured above) is used by the Israel Armed Forces. Moreover, three such UAVs were exported: two of them were delivered to Mexico (contract signed in 2014) and one to Turkey.
Although many designers think that the air vehicles designed as UAVs from the very beginning might perform specialised tasks more efficiently, the conversion of piloted airplanes and helicopters into large-scale UAVs provides opportunities to use the existing technical support service base, a large pool of spare parts and can considerably cut to the costs of engineering and production works.
Conversion stages from a piloted aircraft to UAV.
Concept of converting V-24 Softex Aero into unmanned V-24 UAS was designed for an international tender competition. The main selling points were a pioneering nature of the project, state-of-art technologies, relatively cheap implementation and achievement of a wide spectrum of goals for a UAV version (assault drone, police, monitoring and multi-purpose UAV).
The stages to convert the airplane are: (1) Creation of the preliminary mathematical model using MATLAB® & SIMULINK®; (2) Adaptation of control algorithm and organisation of necessary research works on the piloted airplane; (3) Test flights of the piloted version with a FLY-BY-WIRE or FLY-BY-OPTICS control systems on the Customer’s base; Conduct of the flight program (with pilot) and monitoring and fixing of parameters in the auto-pilot mode / clarification of antenna positions on the aircraft; (4) Clarification of the mathematical model; (5) Compilation of design documentation and transfer of a prototype; (6) Technology transfer for an independent production and control of the UAVs.