Airbus Wingman UAV “loyal wingman” project

Airbus Wingman UAV “loyal wingman” project
Model of the Airbus Wingman UAV at the ILA-2024 exposition

Further development of combat aviation is associated with the emergence of special unmanned aerial vehicles of the “faithful wingman” class, which will have to accompany aircraft and help them in solving various tasks. The European corporation Airbus, represented by its defense division Airbus Defense and Space, has recently been developing such equipment. At the ILA-2024 exhibition, she first presented the concept of a new UAV called Wingman.

Concept for the exhibition

Airbus began working on the Wingman project not so long ago and on its own initiative, although taking into account the plans and wishes of the potential customer. For now it is at the stage of forming and developing its technical appearance, searching for the necessary components and technologies, etc. The full development of the UAV as a whole and its individual systems will begin later and will also take some time.

The existence of the “Wingman” was first announced on June 3 on the eve of the Berlin exhibition ILA-2024. Airbus showed a three-dimensional image of a promising UAV, and also announced a demonstration of a full-size mockup at a future exhibition. In addition, they revealed basic information about the project, some plans for the future, etc. At the same time, they made several important reservations related to the current state of affairs.

The ILA-2024 exhibition began on June 5. At the static parking lot, visitors were able to see the previously promised model of the Wingman UAV. An unusual-looking product in black paint was placed next to the current equipment and weapons of the German Air Force. Probably, they wanted to emphasize the differences between aircraft of different classes and generations.

Project appearance of the "Wingman"

The development company did not miss the opportunity to start an advertising campaign. Thus, the drone was demonstrated to delegations of the German government. In addition, they revealed new information about the project and announced cooperation with related companies, with the help of which they want to solve the most complex technical and other issues.

Goals and objectives

Airbus named the prerequisites for the emergence of the Wingman project and its main goals. It is directly associated with the promising development program for the “European” 6th generation fighter FCAS / NGF. According to the plans of its customers, the new aircraft will be able to operate independently or in a group with “faithful wingmen.” For the role of the latter, Airbus plans to offer its Wingman product.

The shown model of the “Wingman” is solely a demonstrator of the general concept and is not distinguished by deep elaboration. In the future, the project will be developed with the introduction of the necessary components and solutions. At the same time, it is not excluded that the UAV will undergo serious changes during its full development, incl. affecting the aerodynamic design and appearance.

Detailed development of the presented concept and the creation of related tools and systems will begin in the near future. The Wingman project faces quite complex challenges and its development may take a long time. Airbus believes that the drone can be brought into operation in the thirties.

UAV strike configuration

The developers expect that their UAV will in the future enter service with the German Air Force, and then, possibly, other countries. During the first phase of operation, Wingman will complement existing tactical aircraft. The radio reconnaissance/electronic warfare aircraft Eurofighter Typhoon EK, available to the Bundeswehr Air Force, is primarily considered as a leader for such “faithful wingmen.” In the future, by 2040 or later, the “Wingman” will have to begin work with the promising next-generation fighter NGF, which is still being developed.

Design features

The layout and graphic materials allow us to understand how the developers see the aerodynamic appearance and layout of a promising slave UAV. In addition, some ideas from the field of on-board equipment, operating principles and equipment are named. In general, the Wingman concept is revealed in sufficient detail, but within the current level of development of the project.

At the moment, “Wingman” is built according to the “duck” design. A fuselage with a pointed nose section is proposed, under which a scoop air intake of the propulsion system is placed. The flared part of the nose acts as a wing flap. The front horizontal tail is located on it. A delta wing with a broken trailing edge is used, in the center of which there is a flat engine nozzle.

At the information stand for ILA-2024 they showed a slightly different version of the airframe. It is distinguished by the presence of two collapsed keels, and pylons are provided under the wing to accommodate guided weapons. Perhaps we are talking about different configurations of one UAV to solve different problems.

UAV nose with air intake

In its current form, Wingman is approx. 15,5 m and wingspan approx. 11,8 m. Weights have not yet been disclosed. In its existing dimensions, the UAV can have a take-off weight of up to 8-12 tons with a payload of tons. However, the dimensions and weight of the structure may change significantly during the development of the project.

Airbus plans to equip the UAV with a Eurojet EJ200 turbofan engine. Flight performance drone with such a propulsion system, even approximate ones are not named. At the same time, the contours of the airframe, the characteristic air intake and other design features hint at the possibility of achieving supersonic flight speed. It can be assumed that the requirements for the flight characteristics of the “Wingman” will be determined taking into account the parameters of the manned aircraft with which it will have to work.

An original control system based on artificial intelligence will be developed for Wingman, capable of autonomously performing all necessary operations. She will have to pilot the UAV, use the payload and weapons, and interact with the lead aircraft. They plan to create such a system together with the Helsing company, which, unlike Airbus, has extensive experience in the field of software products and artificial intelligence.

As a payload, first of all, various reconnaissance means are considered - optical, thermal imaging and radio engineering. This will improve the situational awareness of the mixed aviation unit and/or provide additional capabilities and reduce risks to people.

The bottom of the model, the doors of the internal weapons compartment are visible

In addition, Wingman will receive a shock function. It will be able to use air-to-surface or air-to-air guided weapons of modern and promising types. The graphic materials show the placement option weapons on pylons under the wing. It is also envisaged to use a cargo compartment inside the fuselage - this option was shown on a full-size mockup.

Reserve for the future

Thus, the leading European developer and manufacturer of aircraft could not ignore the promising and actively developing concept of an unmanned “faithful wingman”. The Airbus Defense and Space Corporation has formed its own version of the appearance of such a UAV and now plans to begin its detailed development.

In the coming years, this project will be developed taking into account the development plans of the German Air Force and other European countries for the medium term. In particular, it is planned to integrate the Wingman product with an existing RTR / EW aircraft. However, the main goals of the project lie in the distant future and are related to the promising FCAS / NGF program.

Airbus intends to bring the new project to its logical conclusion, which will require detailed study. During this process, changes to the current concept are not excluded, incl. the most serious ones if they allow you to get the best result. How exactly the current Wingman concept will have to be redesigned will only become known in a few years.
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  1. 0
    12 June 2024 15: 04
    We were born to make a fairy tale come true. Life will show what will come of this. In the 30s of the last century, flying tanks were designed, for example.
  2. 0
    12 June 2024 16: 08
    Today, the future of the Su70 concept, which took off several years ago, is very vague. Looks more like a technology demonstrator than a production car
    1. -1
      12 June 2024 20: 09
      Dear AC130 Gunship! Vagueness in words, actions, thoughts, especially in military developments is a good way to keep a potential enemy or “sworn” partner in constant suspense.... How useful would be the AC130 “Ganship” (in the domestic version) on the LBS....
      1. 0
        20 June 2024 07: 34
        How useful would be the AC130 "Ganship" (domestic version) on the LBS....

        Ganship in the Northeast Military District? Will suicide bombers fly on it?