The so-called “loyal wingman” is one of the most potentially revolutionary ideas in the field of military aviation. Previously, we have seen such devices from several manufacturers, including Boeing. And recently, Scaled Composites, together with its parent company Northrop Grumman, presented its version.
The American aerospace company has unveiled a new unmanned air vehicle (UAV) concept called the Model 437 that is aimed at the US Air Force’s (USAF’s) Skyborg program and other international loyal wingman development efforts. It could be configured as a “loyal wingman” intended to work networked together with manned platforms.
The Model 437 is also notably derived from earlier stealthy Model 401, a low-cost manufacturing technology demonstrator aircraft; however, it will be larger and capable of carrying more cargo and fuel.
Northrop is proposing to develop an unmanned version of the Model 401, which could be built in approximately 14 months, with a test flight thereafter, to advance the Model 437 concept. The Model 401, also known as the “Son of Ares,” is intended to be pilot-optional.
The original aircraft has a single Pratt & Whitney Canada JT15D-5D engine and can reach speeds of over Mach 0.6 (740 km/h). It has a 38 ft (11.6 m) span wing and a fuselage also of 38 ft (11.6 m) in length. The aircraft carries about 907 kg of fuel, which gives it an endurance of about 3 hours and has a maximum take-off weight of 3,630 kg.
Both Model 401 and the Model 437 feature large internal payload volumes, including the nose, leading edges, wing-tips, and tail-tips. Like the Model 401, the Model 437 also has a top-mounted air intake for its engine, which will be the Williams FJ44 turbofan engine. Also, the use of stealth technologies is not excluded.
Model 437 does also feature a completely new fuselage, and its wings appear to be better optimized for faster speed, as well as for greater efficiency at those speeds. It is expected to have a range of some 3,000 nautical miles (5,556 km) when carrying a load of 4,000 lb (1,814 kg) of fuel and will be able to cruise at around 0.8 Mach (988 km/h), according to Aviation Week. The drone has an internal centerline payload bay that is designed to carry up to 1,000 pounds (453kg) of stores or other systems.
The Model 437 will be able to take off from a 914m-long, 15m-wide runway or straight section of road. Northrop envisions that the Model 437 would have landing gear, removable wings, and it might act as a missile “carriage extension” for its manned wingman. It is reported that the primary expected use for the Model 437 is as a semi-autonomous loyal wingman-type drone working alongside manned aircraft, including fighter jets.