VAIL is currently leading a team developing very exciting, cutting-edge capability in the realm of aviation.
Because the acoustic signatures of aircraft can compromise missions, the United States successfully developed two generations of quiet aircraft. Both proved their value as special mission aircraft because they had no audible signature at low altitudes, but several factors limited their usefulness for missions:
- small cabin areas
- limited range
- time needed to be deployed
In 2017, VAIL Technologies, LLC. led a team to design and build a 3rd gen quiet aircraft from the ground-up as a flexible, multi-mission aircraft. Construction of the first aircraft was completed in May 2020, followed by extensive testing. We named it the NightHawk, and it received a Certificate of Airworthiness on Aug 20, 2020.
The mission-focused design and composite construction afford unprecedented opportunities to conduct ISR and many additional missions while operating undetected in close proximity.
The NightHawk was designed with rapid deployment as a priority. It’s 57 foot long wing is built in three sections, joined together by quick disconnect wing pins, a standard practice on sailplanes with similar wing spans. The wing center section is 17 feet wide, and permanently mounted to the fuselage. The left & right outer wing panels can be removed and stowed within 30 minutes, and then the NightHawk can roll on and off of a C-17 cargo ramp on its own gear.
The NightHawk’s internal fuel storage design eliminates the need for defueling before transport, and the wing panels are easily lifted and securely stowed on their dedicated hard points by two crew members. The NightHawk can be made flight ready by a two man crew within 30 minutes after rolling off of a C-17 with no special tools or maintenance personnel required.
Optionally Piloted Vehicle (OPV)
The NightHawk has been designed to enable both manned and unmanned operations. Its avionics architecture supports a host of commercial auto pilot and flight management packages that can be installed to transform it into an optionally piloted vehicle. Optionally piloted configurations take advantage of NightHawk capabilities to support missions that exceed human endurance or risk tolerance for manned operations
The NightHawk was designed as a manned aircraft, easily flown in the single pilot mode with dual flight controls provided at the 2nd crew position.
Additional crew positions support high-workload mission environments, allowing the pilot to focus on quiet flight operations at low altitudes, while the other crew members focus on assigned missions. The NightHawk sensor bays can carry multiple gimbals (up to 15 inch size) with stabilized long-range telescopic daylight and thermal infrared full motion video (FMV) imagers for each equipment operator.
The NightHawk can support up to 5 seats, facilitating additional crew to assist with operations. To support longer missions, seats recline to enable crew rest.
Plug and Play
The NightHawk provides standard electrical and mechanical interfaces and over 150 cubic feet of internal space to allow it to be quickly adapted to carry various sensors and weapons systems.
Mission flexibility is designed in: The 12 foot long ‘working’ cabin can be rapidly re-configured in the field environment. The large cargo door, removable access panels, built-in conduit tubes, and quick-disconnect RF-friendly antenna/sensor bays allow rapid installation and removal of mission equipment. The cabin can be reconfigured to support most any mission (ISR, medevac, cargo, parachute, strike, etc) within 30 minutes.
The wing center section has hard points to facilitate external stores (600 lbs per side), such as a sensor pod (shown below) or a 30-gallon wing tank.
The NightHawk has a simple & strong airframe suitable for remote operations. It is easy to maintain and fly. It requires no special ground handling or starting equipment. Even fully loaded, the NightHawk is light enough to be rolled around by hand by a crew of two. The rugged tricycle landing gear was designed for sustained operations from unimproved airstrips and rough fields.