Sky-X is an unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) designed, developed and financed by Alenia Aeronautica (Alenia), Italy, for manifestation and research applications. It is the first European UAV to fly in the 1,000kg category. The software-controlled UAV will be used to test technologies in civil and security missions, which include ground observation, surveillance and reconnaissance.
The UAV completed its maiden flight on 29 May 2005 from Vidsel Base in Sweden, near the Arctic Circle, enabling examination of flight characteristics and system functionalities. Sky-X can provide its operators with real-time intelligence information by performing surveillance over a large area. It operates efficiently during adverse weather conditions through important functionalities including automatic take-off and landing (ATOL) and synthetic vision.
Sky-X features a swept-wing fighter configuration airframe. Tema SAS will supply flight control systems for the Sky-X, which include ailerons, ruddervator and airbrake actuation system units to Alenia Aeronautica. These units will be provided as part of the Sky-X UAV demonstrator programme.
Athena Technologies will supply Athena 311 flight control and navigation system to the Sky-X system, which includes an integrated sensor suite and navigation software.
Sky-X UAV development
The development of the Sky-X UAV began in May 2003. It was first flown 18 months later, after successful completion of the first phase of the development programme. Alenia later focused more on developing automatic flight system features including collision avoidance, autonomous navigation, automatic landing and attack, and the autonomous formation fly capabilities for the aircraft.
The UAV was demonstrated on 16 July 2008 to examine its capability for carrying out air-to-air refuelling (AAR) operations with the C-27J, in a completely automated process without the intervention of a ground control station. All flight trials were carried out from the Amendola Italian Air Force Base. It flies at the same speed as a C-27J at certain distance behind to insert a probe into a drogue.
Computers on board and global positioning systems (GPS) manipulate the data received from the sensors to control the speed and altitude allowing the C-27J to easily refuel the UAV.
Secondo Mona, OMA, Moreggia, OMA Sud, Tema, Teseo, Vitrociset, Magnaghi Aeronautica and Quadrics, a subsidiary of Alenia, are some of the Italian contractors that supported the development of the Sky-X system (the UCAV, ground control station and on-board computers).
The UAV can be controlled either manually from the ground control station or autonomously using an on-board computer. It is fully equipped with automatic launch and recovery (ALR) software, which helps the aircraft to land safely in case of communication failure with the GCS.
Sky-X is equipped with electro-optic (EO) and infrared sensors. The EO sensor converts light rays into electronic signals for capturing images, real-time data and videos. It is also fitted with a synthetic aperture radar (SAR).
The UAV is powered by a single Snecma Microturbo TRI60-268 turbofan engine. The engine can produce a maximum thrust of 4.43kN. It is manufactured by Microturbo, a part of Safran Group.
Ground control station
Processing, retrieving and storing the real-time data provided by the Sky-X will be carried out at the GCS. Alenia Aeronautica developed the GCS, remote operator station and data link at its Caselle plants. The UAV, along with the fully operational GCS, was displayed by Alenia Aeronautica at the Paris Air Show in 2007.
Sky-X can fly at a maximum speed of 648km/h and has a cruise speed of 482km/h. Its maximum endurance is two hours. The UAV weighs around 1,000kg and its maximum take-off weight is 1,450kg.