Northrop Grumman long-endurance craft passes milestones

Northrop Grumman is on schedule to develop and test the first Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) within 18 months of contract award. Tods Aerospace is making several composite structures for the unmanned craft.

Northrop Grumman reports that in the four months since it signed a $517 million agreement with the U.S. Army to build three airships with 21-day persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability, its Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) program team has completed three important program milestones. The team is headed toward its fourth, the Critical Design Review (CDR), by the end of first quarter FY11.

"In less than four months time, we have completed our System Readiness Review (SRR), Initial Baseline Review (IBR) and our Preliminary Design Review (PDR) which looks at the hybrid air vehicle design, ground station infrastructure, and ground and airborne system software," said Alan Metzger, Northrop Grumman vice president and integrated program team leader of LEMV and airship programs.

The June 14, 2010, agreement provides for the design, development and testing of the first long-endurance airship within an 18-month time period. "We have made great progress to date and have a great partnership with the Army. As we move forward, we look to inflate our first vehicle next spring, and our first flight is scheduled for mid-next summer," Metzger said. "Upon completion of the development ground and flight testing phase, we expect to transition to a government facility and conduct our final acceptance test in December 2011. It's a very aggressive, almost unprecedented schedule from concept-to-combat with a first of its kind system."

In early 2012, LEMV will be transported for demonstration in an operational environment. The program then transitions from the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command (USA SMDC) control to the project manager for the Army's unmanned aircraft systems.

"LEMV is longer than a football field, taller than a seven-story building and will remain airborne for more than three weeks at a time, delivering a high level of fuel efficiency. Fuel costs are minimal at $11,000 for a 21-day period of service. It's very green," Metzger added.

Northrop Grumman has teamed with Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd.  using its HAV304 platform, Warwick Mills, ILC Dover, AAI Corp., SAIC and a team of technology leaders from 18 U.S. states and three countries to build LEMV.

Composite aerospace structures specialists Tods Aerospace (Crewkerne, U.K.) has contracted with Hybrid Air Vehicles to design and build a series of ultra-lightweight components for the LEMV. Tods Aerospace has been commissioned to design, develop and manufacture a number of composite work packages including tail fins, tail battens and propulsion ducts. 

Tom Hitchings, programmes director at Tods Aerospace, said the project will include large ultra-lightweight composite structures and that Tods has set aside facilities at its Crewkerne, Somerset and Portland, Dorset (U.K.) sites specifically for the production of the LEMV structures.