The increase in military and civilian use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in recent years has lead to an increase in the need for components that power these platforms, and Rolls-Royce has had success in the past, and seems ready for the projected multi-billion growth of the unmanned market over the next decade as the U.S. and other nations prepare to integrate UAS into civilian airspace.
(The Rolls-Royce AE 3007 engine powers Northrop Grumman's RQ-4A, Global Hawk unmanned aircraft. Photo, courtesy of Rolls-Royce.)
Rolls-Royce engines are currently powering Northrop Grumman's MQ-8, MQ-4C Triton and Global Hawk UAS for the U.S. military, and the company has provided power for several unmanned prototypes internationally. The manufacturer's AE 3007 engine powers the Global Hawk and Triton, while the M250 engine powers both the MQ-8C Fire Scout, as well as the previous generation Fire Scout.
"Expanding our business in powering unmanned aircraft is an excellent fit for Rolls-Royce because our engines are highly reliable and fuel efficient. We have several upgrades to existing engines in various stages of development and fielding for unmanned systems, including an upgraded engine for the Fire Scout MQ-8C and reliability improvements we’ve made to the AE 3007H engine for the Triton program, among other things," said Tom Hartman, senior vice president of Rolls-Royce.
According to a recent report from the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), the integration of UAS into civil airspace is projected to generate $89 billion over the next 10 years.
In 1999, the U.S. flew 100,000 flight hours with unmanned systems--today, that number has increased to 1 million unmanned flight hours annually and the Department of Defense currently operates more than 7,000 UAS.
During that time, Rolls-Royce engines have stood up to the test, with the AE 3007 accumulating more than 50 million engine flight hours.
In addition to FAA's plan to open civilian airspace to UAS, the U.S. Navy is ramping up its unmanned power as well, further expanding the market for unmanned engines.
Last month, the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) performed its first ever launch of an UAS from an aircraft carrier, using the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator, and also announced a request for proposals (RFP) for a 10-month preliminary design phase of the unmanned carrier-launched airborne surveillance and strike system (UCLASS) program.
Hartman said Rolls-Royce is open to discussing the application of its engine to more civilian focused UAS platforms, but that the cost of engine development will require a close study of the market.
"Highly reliable and fuel efficient engines to enable UAV’s to safely do long endurance missions are important attributes for all UAV applications. Rolls-Royce has built these attributes into our engines," said Hartman. "For example, the AE 3007 has proven itself in production and development aircraft, and is also operating widely in the civilian market."
Related: Unmanned Systems News