The trend continues – manned aircraft go unmanned

Piaggio Avanti II turboprop executive transport

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Piaggio Avanti II turboprop executive transport
Piaggio Avanti II turboprop executive transport

Executive plane becomes Hammerhead UAV

The Piaggio Aero Company and Selex ES successfully completed the first flight of the aptly-named Hammerhead UAV. The aircraft was remotely controlled from the ground, with no crew on board. Flying behind, two chase planes kept the UAV in sight during the test flight.

The Hammerhead is a derivative of the Piaggio Avanti II turboprop executive transport, a fast and high flying aircraft that was designed and manufactured in Italy. The Avanti II has a patented “three lifting surfaces” design, with a small canard wing in the front of the aircraft, a thin, high aspect ratio wing, and an elevator on a tall T-shaped tail. Piaggio claims that this configuration is highly efficient and lets this aircraft get excellent gas mileage.

Also unusual are the pusher engines. The Pratt and Whitney PT6A-66B 850 shaft horsepower engines are mounted backwards, with the propellers in the back of the aircraft. The company claims this arrangement is more efficient, resulting in a smoother ride.

The main purpose of the test flight was to check out the Remote Vehicle Control and Management System (VCMS) and the Ground Control Station. During the test flight, the aircraft climbed away from the airport and cruised over the Mediterranean Sea for about 12 minutes before returning to base and landing safely.

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AUS&R2015_728x90Cruise speed for the test was maintained at 170 kts (195 mph / 315 km/h). The landing gear and flaps remained down for the entire flight, which is a normal precaution on first flights.

According to Gizmag, the UAV version, the Hammerhead, is slightly different from the passenger plane. The wings are a bit longer, and the airframe has been stiffened. The wings can be easily removed in order to accommodate transportation.

Also, flight endurance has been increased to 16 flight hours. While this endurance is impressive for a manned aircraft, it is not exceptional for unmanned aircraft of this size, which commonly fly for 24 hours or more.

The Hammerhead can carry a variety of payloads, and seems to be mostly destined for maritime patrol. This is hardly surprising for a country like Italy, with its enormous coastline. The most visible payload is the EO/IR (Electro-Optic, Infrared) camera ball on the front, which is made by FLIR, an American company. The aircraft also carries a marine radar, a SeaSpray 7300, and is equipped with AIS (Automatic Identification System), a transponder system that identifies ships at sea.