Lycoming Engines supplies engines for the Aerosonde Mk. 4.7 UAV. (Aerosonde)
Farnborough International Airshow
FARNBOROUGH, ENGLAND — As concerns grow over UAV reliability rates, US firm Lycoming Engines has claimed it is time for manufacturers to stop using snowmobile and chainsaw engines on their unmanned platforms and switch to general aviation aircraft engines.
“You will not successfully integrate UAVs in US civil airspace until reliability improves, and the FAA is saying the equipment should be no different to that used by manned aircraft,” said Michael Kraft, senior vice president and general manager at Lycoming Engines, a unit of Textron. “UAVs need piston engines which are safe.”
Lycoming has been manufacturing general aviation engines for decades and is now a presence in the UAV market, Kraft said, and has all the right credentials to save the industry from regular crashes.
“We use the same manufacturing techniques and materials used in manned aircraft that no chainsaw manufacturer would use,” Kraft said at the Farnborough International Airshow. “For example, we use an alloy on our DEL 120 which was deemed too expensive for Formula One racing.”
The DEL 120, built for general aviation aircraft, has been used on the General Atomics Improved Grey Eagle UAV as well as on its Block Zero retrofit after a previous supplier, Thielert, became insolvent.
“Some 152 Grey Eagle UAVs will be produced, while we would supply twice that number of engines for a successful general aviation aircraft in one year,” said Kraft, “so it is also a question of the support we can provide.”
Kraft said Lycoming was also able to leverage its return on investment from selling 3,000 general aviation engines last year to boost its research into UAV applications.
The firm currently supplies engines to the Aerosonde Mk. 4.7G UAV used by the US in Afghanistan, the Northrop Grumman Firebird and is seeking to power the pending Shadow M2.
Kraft said the Firebird, at 350 horsepower, was about the largest UAV that would benefit from a general aviation piston engine.
“When our engine was put on the Aerosonde, replacing a non-general aviation engine, reliability improved five fold,” Kraft said. ■