Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Is Lockheed Martin’s ‘Secret’ Unmanned Aircraft ‘Speed Racer’ Ready For Take-Off?

Is the US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin set to conduct tests of its new ‘secret’ unmanned aircraft called ‘Speed Racer’? Lockheed’s Skunk Works division is known for delivering futuristic aircraft such as the SR-71 Blackbird, F-117 Nighthawk, and the U-2 Dragon Lady.

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The Maryland-headquartered firm’s Skunk Works division, earlier known as Advanced Development Programs, is developing an unmanned aircraft system (UAS).

“A secretive new unmanned aircraft system (UAS) designed by the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works is poised to enter ground testing imminently,” said a spokesperson from Lockheed Martin.

“The UAS known only as ‘Speed Racer’ is awaiting the pending delivery of engines supplied by Technical Directions Inc. (TDI), a Michigan-based small turbojet supplier that was acquired in 2019 by Kratos Defense and Security Solutions,” she said.

According to reports, the unscrewed vehicle is set to use an all-new digital engineering process called StarDrive. The digital engineering process involves using computer software to construct “digital twins” of an aircraft from the design to flight stages before the physical aircraft gets ready for take-off.

Through the process, engineers can use the software twin to predict how an aircraft will fly, make adjustments to it, and modify the aircraft design to an advanced level.

The digital engineering process, which originated from the civilian aerospace sector, has recently been moved to the military domain. The procedure will enable the development to be quicker while also reducing the considerable costs involved in it.

A fine example of this is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project, which took two decades, taking a huge number of personnel and financial resources.

The US Air Force revealed that with the help of digital engineering, it could secretly design, build and test a new prototype fighter jet in just 12 months, last year.

An artist’s rendering of Lockheed RQ-170 UAV

Now, under the StarDrive digital engineering process, an aircraft will see rapid development in the overall design and modifications. It will ensure faster and cheaper development of the aircraft.

It is reported that Skunk Works will build the real aircraft to complement the digital twin. The ground testing of the aircraft will include watching and testing it for reliability, checking it for unusual vibrations, and carrying notional payloads while the aircraft is static or moving under its own power.

This process will be followed by actual flight testing. No further details have been provided by the Skunk Works division regarding the ‘Speed Racer’ aircraft.

Skunk Works has designed and developed a number of aircraft including the P-38 Lightning, P-80 Shooting Star. It also came out with a more advanced class of aircraft including the U-2, the SR-71 Blackbird, the F-117 Nighthawk, the F-22 Raptor, and the F-35 Lightning II, considered the most sought-after fighter jet in the world.

Skunk Works is also known for making drones or UAVs such as the RQ-170 and DarkStar spy drone, although the latter got canceled.

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