A rendering of the P.1HH Hammerhead by Piaggio Aero. (Piaggio Aero)
A rendering of the P.1HH Hammerhead by Piaggio Aero. / Piaggio Aero
The unmanned Piaggio Aero P.1HH Hammerhead after its official unveiling Tuesday at the Paris Air Show. / David Brown
PARIS — Italy’s defense procurement chief has backed Piaggio Aero’s new, unmanned variant of its P.180 aircraft as a candidate to replace Italy’s Reapers. He also said the UAV — dubbed the P.1HH Hammerhead — should take on the role of Europe’s long delayed, medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) program.
Speaking at the Paris Air Show unveiling of the UAV on Tuesday, Gen. Claudio Debertolis also said the Hammerhead could be armed.
“Arming it will be the last stage,” of development of the UAV, he said, adding that the US block on Italy arming its General Atomics Reapers had been “an incentive” in backing the Hammerhead.
“We have a requirement for a MALE UAV, and if this program meets the requirement it would be our candidate,” Debertolis said. The Italian Defense Ministry would handle the certification of the UAV, although not invest in the development he said.
“The requirement would be for 10,” Debertolis said.
The Italian procurement office had been an enthusiastic supporter of the program, which was made public in February, Debertolis said. He will sign a letter of intent to kick-start the promotion of the aircraft to other countries.
“We will propose it as a common program for Europe,” he said.
Unveiled this year at the IDEX show in Abu Dhabi, the Hammerhead features twin propellers and is officially designed for ISR missions.
After two years of development, the UAV completed its first engine start and runway taxi on Feb. 14 at an Italian Air Force base, with the first flight planned this year.
Based on Piaggio’s manned P.180 Avanti, the UAV features automatic takeoff and landing capabilities, a 15.5-meter wing span, maximum takeoff weight of 6,146 kilograms and will fly up to 45,000 feet with 16 hours endurance, using two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6-66B turboprop engines.
The UAV will also be compliant with STANAG USAR 4671 standards that enable it to fly in restricted and unrestricted areas.
Italy’s Selex ES, which is partnering on the program, will supply an electro-optical turret, forward-looking infrared, a belly-mounted Seaspray 7300 radar and the SkyISTAR mission management system. A bulge on the top of the fuselage conceals the UAV’s satellite link.
Piaggio is partly owned by private Italian investors, India’s Tata and Mubadala Aerospace, the investment arm of the government of Abu Dhabi.
CEO Alberto Galassi said the Hammerhead is a natural candidate for a European MALE UAV, while a company source said NATO countries are also a target, including countries who would need to replace Reapers.
“Nobody else can arrive at the target at 395 knots and loiter at 135 knots for 16 hours at 45,000 feet,” he said. “No one else has two engines which increase safety, or can fly in all weather,” he added.
Galassi said the fact that the aircraft has already been certified and flown in its manned version would speed up certification.
“After hearing about the billions being spent on UAVs which will arrive on the market in 2020, I have to say we offer more for less,” he said.
The wings, which are larger than the manned P.180, are foldable, to allow the UAV to be inserted in transport aircraft.
Galassi said that “outside the box” thinking had led to the decision to develop the P.180, which has been sold as a business aircraft, as a UAV.
“You cannot do this with all planes,” he said. “We were lucky because the aerodynamics and the three lifting surfaces provide the endurance.” The UAV would be cheaper to run than the Reaper, he said.
The Paris unveiling of the Hammerhead comes days after Italy’s Alenia Aermacchi — a Finmeccanica stablemate of Selex — issued an appeal with Dassault and EADS Cassidian to European governments to find the funds to develop a common European UAV.
Debertolis’ strong backing of the Hammerhead could prompt head-scratching in Italy, since Alenia has been pitching its own development work for inclusion in a common European program.
“Alenia is not happy, but they don’t have a platform,” one Italian industrial source said.
At the unveiling on Tuesday, Debertolis revealed that he had been talking about Hammerhead when recently making references to Italy acquiring a UAV based on Italian “black” technology.
Pylons added to the side of the fuselage would carry pods or weaponry, although the UAV is large enough to carry weapons in internal bays.
“Half of what is currently cabin space would remain free,” Galassi said.
Separately, the United Arab Emirates firm Adasi is working with Saab to produce a manned, maritime patrol version of the P.180, with the UAE as launch customer. ■
For more Paris Air Show coverage, go to www.defensenews.com/paris.