The low-altitude, long-endurance KillerBee unmanned air vehicle is being developed by Northrop Grumman and its principal teammate Swift Engineering. It's primairy mission will be intelligence gathering (ISR), but it can also be used to relay voice and data across great distances.
The KillerBee is being developed to meet a broad range of needs in the needs of the US Air Force, Marine Corps., Navy and the Department of Homeland Security. Relatively cheap in purchase and operational costs, the UAV can also be used by private security companies.
The KillerBee features a blended-wing configuration, these merge the body and wing to reduce weight and drag. Boeing and NASA are currently exploring its potential as a future configuration for passenger and airfreight transportation.
The Killerbee, with it's 6.5 ft wingspan will have only three airframe parts, and is designed to reduce manufacturing costs to a minimum. All systems are accessible from a single panel.
While other small UAV's need to be folded to avoid the stresses of high speed flight, the KillerBee with it's blended-wing design can be released from fast-flying aircraft. The thicker wings and body are much stiffer than conventional aircraft designs, so it doesn't need expensive folding mechanisms.
By merging efficient high-lift wings and a wide airfoil-shaped body, the entire aircraft generates lift and minimizes drag, this increases fuel economy and endurance. Later this year, the KillerBee will demonstrate an advanced engine that will provide 30hours endurance with a 7pound payload, or 8hours with a 20pound payload.
It's flat design not only makes the UAV visually and on radar low observable, it also enables it's operators to stack numerous KillerBees in a small space.
With it's small 6.5ft wingspan, the KB-2 variant can be transported by a HumVee, SUV or van without having to fold it up first. Depending on it's payload, which can range from 7 to 15 pounds, the KB-2 has an endurance of 12 - 24 hours, with a cruising speed of 68 mph.
The KB-3 is slightly larger, with a wingspan of 9ft and can carry up to 30 pounds of equipment.
Another version that's still on the drawing board is the KB-X, which will have a wingspan of 17.5 feet and a maximum payload of 120 pounds.
In March 2006 the 9-ft version was demonstrated for the Air Force at it's UAV Battlelab at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada.
"The most impressive part of the demonstration was the flight of the UAV," said Lt. Col. Douglas Larson, chief of the Combat Applications Division at the UAV Battlelab. "It was amazing how quickly it climbed to altitude. It was very evident this bird could carry a lot more payload. Couple this with its inherent low-observable design, and I think we have a platform that could be used for several Air Force missions."
Northrop demonstrated the KillerBee was able to launch and be recovered without a runway, provide real-time video, display low-altitude flight and the potential for autonomous long-endurance operations.
Credit: Northrop Grumman
The military has numerous applications for a UAV in this class. One of the advantages the Killer Bee offers is the ability to install different types of sensors -- and even small bombs -- on different aircraft flying together.
These can include EO/IR and SAR sensors with optional IR pointer, laser range finder or designator as needed to meet mission requirements.
Typical payloads will be daylight and Infra-Red cameras in a steer-able pan/tilt/zoom ball to perform ISR missions. Other payloads include beyond line-of-sight communication relays, chem/bio detection, and flare dispensing.
For commercial use, the KillerBee can be useful for any job requiring persistent monitoring. These include private security, and monitoring of; traffic, agriculture, forestry, storms, pipelines, power-lines, and fisheries.
The KillerBee system is designed to be operated by as few as one person in a single support vehicle. A typical system would include a small trailer towed by an SUV, or the system can be carried in the bed of a large pick-up. This system will perform missions currently requiring light planes or helicopters at a fraction of the cost and with much more endurance.
Networked together, a squadron of Killer Bees could have the same capability as an airplane-size robotic spy plane flying at 25,000 feet, said W.T. "Bill" Walker of Northrop Grumman's unmanned systems business in Rancho Bernardo.
By the end of this year, the companies hope to conduct a test flight with four Killer Bees. Each aircraft would fly autonomously, Walker said, using technology similar to the systems that Northrop developed for Global Hawk.
Walker declined to say exactly how much a squadron of Killer Bees would cost. But he said it should be possible for the Pentagon to buy 20 to 30 Killer Bees for roughly the same price as a medium-altitude tactical UAV.
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Sources and relevant links
- SignOnSanDiego.com - UAV, dubbed 'Killer Bees,' could be launched from Humvees
- Swift Engineering INC
- Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems