By Luca Peruzzi
Sky Eye Systems, an SME subsidiary of OMA (Officine Meccaniche Aeronautiche), was created in 2017 to develop what is today the ITAR-free Rapier family of small tactical unmanned air systems (UASs). The company is currently working on a new version of its product, mainly intended for naval applications, which was unveiled during the Seafuture exhibition last week in La Spezia.
Headquartered near Pisa in Tuscany, Sky Eye Systems has already developed two mini UAS, the Rapier X-25 (which number stands for the 25 kg maximum take-off weight), and the Rapier X-SkySAR, with a 30 kg MTOW.
The Rapier X-25 model, which is about to obtain military certification according to STANAG 4703, was procured by the Italian Air Force as the launch customer and delivered to the 32nd Wing of Amendola (Foggia), according to Giovanni Fumia, Sky Eye Systems head of marketing and sales, where it is being used by the service’s RPAS Centre of Excellence. The Italian Air Force purchase includes a complete system consisting of two aircraft, a catapult launcher and a Ground Control Station (GCS) with two operator consoles (for the pilot and the payload operator). The Italian Army and Navy have also sent letters of interest for this system, according to the company representative.
Coming to the Rapier X-SkySAR, in addition to EO/IR sensors this the can also carry the SkySAR, the lightest synthetic aperture radar in the world developed and fully funded by Sky Eye Systems itself under proprietary requirements, in partnership with Echoes s.r.l., said Fumia.
Based on the Italian Navy preliminary interest for a new UAS programme planned to be launched this year, Sky Eye Systems began to work on the Rapier X-VTOL version, which initial details were unveiled during at Seafuture 2021. “The development and qualification of the new UAS will depend on the market and on the Italian Navy programme timeline. Our goal is however to complete the activities within 2022”. Sharing most of the sensitive and fundamental technologies developed by Sky Eye Systems for the rest of its UAS family, such as the extremely optimized aerodynamic layout, the Flight Control System (FCS) and the GCS, designed according to the highest DO178C-DALB software-hardware safety standards, as well as the structural design almost entirely in carbon fiber, the X-VTOL is the hybrid configured platform of the Rapier UAS family.
Using a similar airframe with underwing tail booms and reverse V tail controls, the X-VTOL is characterized by two tandem engines at the airframe extremes for horizontal flight and eight electric engines for vertical flight, of which four each are distributed on the two tail booms extending forward and backward under the wings. The tandem push-pull propulsion engines configuration, including a back Orbital heavy fuel engine (HFE) and a forward electric one, ensures fast climbing, precision landing and hovering, even in strong windy conditions on board fast moving naval platforms.
The double deck layout of the fuselage allows for a separation between platform systems and the payload flexible bay. The latter can accommodate the range of Epsilon Octopus EO/IR sensors turrets fitted with two to four sensors (Epsilon Octopus 140, 140z or 175) together with the SkySAR, or alternatively other payloads, including hyperspectral sensors, Lidar, IFF, SIGINT and AIS equipment. With an MTOW of 50 kg, the Rapier X-VTOL will be able to reach a cruise and maximum speed of respectively 57 and 70 knots and a 6,435 meters maximum operational altitude. With a datalink range of 100 km (extendable to a few hundred km, thanks to the optional satellite datalink) and an endurance of 5 to 11 hours depending on the mission and payloads, the Rapier X-VTOL shares the same GCS of the Rapier family and makes use of the collected data processing and analysis software exploiting artificial intelligence algorithms, developed by Planetek Italia.
Images courtesy Sky Eye Systems