UK Stealth Drone Unveiled

The Brits want to get out of the traditional fighter jet business, and start putting robots in the cockpits, instead of blokes.corax.jpgAfter the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is done, the Ministry of Defence is looking to build unmanned combat aerial vehicles, or UCAVs, according to Jane's International Defence Review. But developing killer drones takes time. So Brits are working now with the American military on a "Project Churchill... an effort that is focused on the joint, airborne command and control" of the UCAVs."The drone pictured here -- called the Corax -- is one of two robo-planes that the Ministry will use as platforms for their UCAV development. (Jane's doesn't mention whether the cancellation of the American killer drone effort will affect the project. One suspects it might.)"The jet-powered Corax had performed several successful flights as early as 2004 taking off and landing under computer control," New Scientist notes. "The aircraft is curved in a manner than resembles existing 'stealth" aircraft. The special shape of such craft is designed to defeat radar detection by reflecting radar away from a radar sensor instead of back at it. Corax also lacks a conventional tail, which should make it more aerodynamic but also more difficult to control."All of which reminds Jane's of the infamously secretive DarkStar stealth drone, cancelled in 1999. It also had "a tail-less configuration, and a long-span unswept wing mounted at the rear of a short body section."

However, there are important differences. The body section is straight-edged and pointed rather than being a half-disc shape. The wing is tapered and mounted relatively further forward, and there are two pitch-control surfaces on each side of the exhaust. This avoids one problem with the DarkStar, which was the limited pitch authority available from the win trailing-edge surfaces: a factor in the loss of the first DarkStar in April 1996. Compared with DarkStar, which was designed with an emphasis on a low side-on signature - matching its side-looking sensors - Corax is optimised for all-round stealth.
(Big ups: JQP, SH)
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