Excalibur Prepping for Test Flight

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A prototype for an unmanned aerial vehicle that may one day insert special operators, kill bad guys or fly a wounded Soldier from the battlefield to a base hospital gets a try-out sometime over the next several weeks.

The Excalibur will be tested in a proof of principal flight at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland under contract from the Army's Aviation Applied Technology Directorate at Fort Eustis, Va. Don't expect the robot plane to be carrying anyone -- at just around 700 pounds the prototype is intended only to give the Army a demonstration of its vertical take-off and landing capabilities.

Patti Woodside, a spokeswoman for the company, told Military.com that Excalibur-maker Aurora Flight Sciences of Manassas, Va., "will be looking for customers and funding" to continue the UAV's development.

She believes the test flight probably will happen in early July, but after July Fourth.

The test version will only be about 13 feet long, have a wingspan of 10 feet and weigh in at just about 700 pounds. The company envisions an operational Excalibur to be 23 feet long, with a wingspan of 21 feet and weigh 2,900 pounds. Though Excalibur's dimension's would be shorter than the RQ-1 Predator, it would weigh more than twice as much.

Aurora says Excalibur would fill a gap between weapon-toting UAVs such as the Predator, which can carry Hellfire missiles, and manned strike aircraft used for tactical air support. The Excalibur would be able to carry any of several types of ordnance, including Hellfire, Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System missiles, Viper Strike laser-guided glide weapons and other small, precision-guided munitions developed or under development by the Pentagon, according to Aurora's Web site.

Company officials at the Air Force Association's symposium in Washington last fall said the UAV also could be used to insert special operators into an area, as well as carry wounded troops out of a combat zone. In addition to its VTOL capabilities, the UAV would be able to take off and land using short runways.Unlike other UAVs, the Excalibur will not be remotely piloted by someone manning a computer, the company says. The plane will have a high level of autonomy, it says, which means officials can concentrate on mission planning, including finding and designating targets.

The company says Excalibur will reach speeds in excess of 400 knots, but with the ability to loiter at 100 knots.

Bryant Jordan

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