The unmanned systems community came together in Denver, Colo., Aug. 24 to 27 a the AUVSI 2010 show. Composites were featured prominently by several exhibitors. Below is a review of pertinent highlights.
QinetiQ (London, U.K. and McLean, Va.) showcased its strengths in unmanned ground and sea vehicles, as well as the recent record-breaking flight of its Zephyr solar-powered UAS (see photo). The aircraft, weighing a mere 112 lb/51 kg, has a 73-ft/22.5m wingspan and is designed to hold station in the stratosphere for weeks or even months. Company spokesmen told CompositesWorld that the all-carbon fiber UAS is close to production-ready and that it will be manufactured at QinetiQ North America’s Huntsville, Ala., facility.
Insitu (Bingen, Wash., USA), recently awarded the Small Tactical Unmanned Air System (STUAS)/Tier II contract by the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) for its Integrator UAS, held a press conference to describe the aircraft’s capabilities. U.S. Navy Admiral William Shannon, Insitu’s primary contract customer, described the aircraft as a “truck” with open architecture, that is, a very flexible composite platform that can accommodate multiple sensors and instruments for many roles, especially as miniaturization evolves — as sensors get smaller, they can be carried on smaller tactical vehicles. Shannon confirmed that the Navy is committed to buying large numbers of Integrator craft, and reiterated that the predecessor, Insitu’s ScanEagle, has proven itself for years on board Navy ships at sea.
EOS of North America Inc. (Novi, Mich., USA), a manufacturer of laser sintering systems and devices, emphasized in its booth several complex aircraft components made using polyamide and PEEK resin systems reinforced with glass and carbon fibers. Also in the EOS booth was Scott Killian, HTLS business development at Royal Engineered Composites (Minden, Neb., USA), which is using an EOS system to manufacture at least 180 PEEK-based parts that are being considered for use the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.
On Tuesday afternoon, Derrick Maple, senior unmanned systems analyst at HIS Janes (Bracknell, Berkshire, U.K.), gave a very informative status update on the UAS market size and his predictions for growth. He foresees demand for nearly 50,000 units over the next decade (to 2019), 75 percent of which will be small UAVs less than 66 lb/30 kg. Annual growth of the (currently) $105 billion (USD) UAS industry will be between 5 and 10 percent per annum, with double-digit growth between 2020 and 2030. Maple commented that while national airspace issues are constraining commercial and civil UAS applications for now, those applications will come by 2020, paving the way for greater growth.
Solid Concepts (Valencia, Calif., USA) announced at the show the development of CompositeCast, a composite material/process combination for medical device housing applications that features a glass, carbon or Kevlar fiber mesh laid on a silicone rubber tool. A vacuum is pulled on the closed mold and urethane is cast on and around the mesh to produce the desired part. Cycle time for what Solid Concepts says is a typical part is about 190 seconds. Also new from Solid Concepts is GSL, a rapid manufacturing material that features a nylon base resin with glass and/or carbon reinforcement.