At the 2017 Paris Air Show, Textron Systems Unmanned Systems officials introduced the Nightwarden tactical unmanned aircraft system (TUAS), the production-ready model of the company’s developmental Shadow M2 TUAS.

“Since first announcing the Shadow M2, we’ve made significant improvements and enhancements to the system,” says Unmanned Systems Senior Vice President & General Manager Bill Irby. “Compared to our internal development model, the Nightwarden TUAS offers greater flexibility and combat capability, beyond line-of-sight satellite communications (SATCOM) features, as well as enhanced command-and-control through Synturian, Textron Systems’ new family of multi-domain control and collaboration technologies.”

The optional SATCOM package gives Nightwarden capability common to larger Group IV Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Nightwarden has a range of up to 1,100km, maximum speed up to 90kts, endurance up to 15 hours, and 130 lb payload capacity.

The TUAS is powered by a water-cooled rotary engine, which reduces the acoustic signature, increases propulsion performance, and produces greater electrical output. The system features a dual-payload bay for communication relay; sense-and-avoid equipment; or electronic attack, signals intelligence, or communications intelligence packages. Nightwarden also offers strike capabilities, such as Textron Systems’ Fury precision-guided glide munition.

Transport Canada approves drone test range

Canada’s Minister of Transport Marc Garneau has granted approval to the UAS Centre of Excellence to begin unmanned aircraft operations at its test range in Alma, Quebec. This test range facilitates research and development and provides dedicated, restricted airspace for manufacturers to test drones beyond visual line-of-sight.

In partnership with Iqaluit, Canada-based company Arctic UAV Inc. and the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Transport Canada is among the first to operate at the new test range as it begins trials with a Sea-Hunter drone.

The trials will provide hands-on experience operating sophisticated drones and will help develop procedures, training, and risk assessment tools for surveillance operations in Northern Canada.

Transport Canada intends to acquire a system that would use drones to survey ice and oil spills in the Canadian Arctic. In anticipation of these activities, the department awarded a contract to Arctic UAV to conduct several research and development flight trials during the next three years.

On March 28, 2016, the Government of Canada successfully completed its first drone trial off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador to assess the potential of drones to support Canadian Coast Guard icebreaking operations.;

Drone identification rulemaking committee

There are no established requirements or voluntary standards for electrically broadcasting information to identify an unmanned aircraft while it’s in the air. To help protect the public and the National Airspace System from such drones, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has formed an Unmanned Aircraft Systems Identification and Tracking Aviation Rulemaking Committee (UAS-ID ARC) to help create standards for identifying and tracking unmanned aircraft during operations. In December 2015, the FAA issued a requirement for small UAS owners to mark their aircraft with a unique identifier, but it did not include provisions for identifying UAS while in flight. Now, recognizing the value of remote identification for safety of the public and National Airspace System, the UAS-ID ARC will inform the FAA on available remote identification and tracking technologies, expose shortfalls in available standards, and make recommendations for how remote identification may be implemented.

The committee’s membership includes representatives from the unmanned aircraft industry, the aviation community, industry member organizations, manufacturers, researchers, law enforcement, and standards groups.

The rulemaking committee will:

  • Identify, categorize, and recommend available and emerging technologies for remote identification, tracking of UAS
  • Identify requirements for meeting security and public safety needs of law enforcement, homeland defense, national security communities for remote identification and tracking
  • Evaluate feasibility/affordability of available technical solutions; determine how well they address the needs of law enforcement and air traffic control

Eventually, the recommendations the committee produces could pave the way for drone flights over people and beyond visual line of sight.

Kratos awarded drone system contract

San Diego, California-based Kratos Defense & Security Solutions’ Unmanned Systems Division (USD) had its U.S. Navy contract amended for first-year low-rate initial production (LRIP 1) of BQM-177A subsonic aerial target (SSAT) drone systems. The order, including contractor logistics support and equipment, is valued at more than $37 million.

The SSAT program is a high-fidelity target that replicates subsonic anti-ship cruise missile threats in fleet training and weapon system testing. The BQM-177A will initially augment, and eventually replace, the existing BQM-74E Chukar targets with longer range, lower cruise altitudes, and greater maneuverability.

The BQM-177A, based on Kratos’ BQM-167X, is derived from the BQM-167A Skeeter target currently being supplied to the U.S. Air Force. The BQM-177A introduces a new fuselage with area ruling, high-mounted wings, and an internally integrated MicroTurbo TR-60-5+ turbo jet engine for reduced transonic drag. It can support various mission requirements by carrying a variety of internal and wingtip-mounted payloads, including electronic counter measures, active and passive radar augmentation, infrared, identification friend or foe, internal chaff, flare dispensing, threat emitter simulators, smoke, and scoring.

Earlier this year, Kratos’ USD officials announced receipt of an order from an unnamed U.S. government customer for six high-performance, unmanned aerial drone system aircraft.