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Insitu’s Small Unmanned Aircraft Awaits Production Decision
By Valerie Insinna

After conducting its first successful maritime flight in February, Insitu officials are hoping the Navy will approve low rate initial production of its small tactical unmanned aircraft system, the RQ-21A.

Such a decision could happen as soon as in a month, said Ryan Hartman, the company’s senior vice president of integrator programs. Initial operational capability is planned for December 2013, he said April 9 at the Navy League's Sea Air Space exhibition in National Harbor, Md.

The system took off from the USS Mesa Verde — a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, flew for two hours and then was recovered, he said. Before the maritime flight, the RQ-21 A underwent three months of land-based testing.

“This was the first of what will be many flights on a U.S. Navy ship, most likely on an LPD-17 for the foreseeable future, and then evolving to other L-class ships after the [initial operational test and evaluation] activity," Hartman said.

The Navy intends to use the RQ-21 to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities while at sea, and it also has the ability to assist the Marine Corps in ship-to-shore missions.

Naval Air Systems Command awarded Insitu the small tactical unmanned aircraft system contract in 2010.

The 135-pound vehicle has a 55-knot cruise speed with a dash of over 80 knots. The endurance with a 25-pound payload is about 15 hours, but it can fly 24 hours straight with a smaller payload, according to information released by the company.

One of the benefits of a fixed wing platform like the RQ-21A is that it has longer endurance than rotorcraft such as Northrop Grumman’s Fire Scout, Hartman said. Another advantage is that the RQ-21A is quieter and has a modular payload.

"You can fly lower, closer to the target, get better imagery without burning the target, so to speak or revealing the presence of your unmanned system,” Hartman said.

The RQ-21A developed for the U.S. military was based on the company’s Integrator UAS, its commercial offering for the international and non-Defense Department sector, Hartman said. Insitu plans to continue improving the Integrator, such as developing more advanced propulsion technologies and payloads.

“As we develop new technologies, what we want to be doing is making those available to … the RQ-21 customer for their mission,” Hartman said. “By maintaining our own baseline, we can do a lot of the work outside of the program of record, maybe move a little faster than the program of record, and there will be mature technologies on a much more frequent basis."

The Integrator Block 2 flew for the first time in February at Insitu’s flight test range in Oregon. The flight lasted two hours.

Compared to the original Integrator, the Block 2 can handle hotter temperatures of up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit and has ability to use either JP8 or JP5 fuel.  An improved sensor turret with an infrared sensor allows users to better see in the dark, said information released by the company.

Insitu has already sold several Block 2 systems to a country in the Middle East, Hartman said.

Both the RQ-21 and the Integrator Block 2 use a common ground control station. Insitu officials are working on integrating its ScanEagle system to use that control station as well.

Photo Credit: NAVAIR


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