Boeing A160 Hummingbird: Wikis


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A160 Hummingbird
Role UAV helicopter
National origin United States
Manufacturer Boeing Advanced Systems
First flight 2002

The Boeing A160 Hummingbird (military designation: YMQ-18A) is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) helicopter. Its design incorporates many new technologies never before used in helicopters, allowing for greater endurance and altitude than any helicopter currently in operation.

The Hummingbird was initially developed by Frontier Aircraft. In May 2004, the company was acquired by Boeing and integrated into Boeing Phantom Works and then into the Advanced Systems group of Boeing Integrated Defense Systems.[1]

The A160 is in development as of 2008, but test flights already demonstrate successively greater endurance, higher altitudes, more extensive autonomy, and greater payload. The program has ambitious goals of a 2,500-mile (4,000 km) range, 24-hour endurance, and 30,000 ft (9,100 m) altitude. Flights are largely autonomous, with the aircraft making its own decisions about how to fly itself so as to meet certain objectives, rather than relying on real-time human control. Maximum speeds are over 140 knots. The aircraft is 35 ft (11 m) from nose to tail and has a rotor diameter of 36 ft (11 m).[2] Until recently it was powered by modified Subaru automotive engines, but newer versions fly with the Pratt & Whitney PW207D turboshaft.[3]


Design and development

The A160 during ground runs at the Victorville, CA airport

The development program for the A160 began when DARPA awarded a 30-month technology demonstration contract to San Diego-based Frontier Systems in March, 1998.[4] In June 1999, Frontier tested the autonomous fight control system with the Maverick-A, a modified lightweight Robinson R-22 helicopter. This test bed was lost during an accident in 2000, after having flown for 215 hours. The first prototype, a three-bladed A160, demonstrated a brief hover on December 7, 2001 and performed its first forward flight on January 29, 2002.[5]

A four-blade version of the A160 flew in November 2002 using a Subaru four-cylinder engine. Frontier Systems was awarded a contract for four more A160s in October 2003.[6] A total of three vehicles were produced by Frontier Systems. Vehicles 1 and 3 were lost in crashes. Frontier began a planned KW600 diesel engine for the vehicle, but never completed it. A diesel engine would have nearly doubled the vehicle endurance due to lower fuel consumption.[7][8]

Frontier Aircraft, and then Boeing, have carried out the A160 program as part of a series of contracts with DARPA, the US Army, and the US Navy from 2003.[9][2] In September 2003, DARPA awarded Frontier a $75 million contract for the design, development and testing of four A160s.[9]

In May 2004, the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command awarded Syracuse Research Corp. a $13.3 million contract for the ultra high frequency, foliage penetrating, real-time moving target indicator/synthetic aperture radar for use in the A160.[9]

The A160's rotor includes blades whose stiffness and cross-section vary along their length. Their low loading and rigid, hingeless design allows for changing RPM (not just blade pitch as in conventional helicopters) to optimize efficiency at different speeds and altitudes. It is primarily because of these features that the Hummingbird can fly with less power - and thus use less fuel - than comparable helicopters.

In August 2005, Frontier Systems - by then a Boeing subsidiary - received a $50 million contract from the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division "to assess the military utility and affordability of a long-range VTOL UAV employing a wide variety of adaptable payloads".[9]

In October 2007, DARPA awarded Boeing a $6.3 million contract to deliver an A160T aircraft and modified pod for the Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance-Imaging System (ARGUS-IS) program.


Renegade UAV and Maverick UAV

Frontier Systems used a modified Robinson R22 helicopter to develop and test the flight control systems that would later be used to autonomously fly the Hummingbird. While the original aircraft was lost in an accident in 2000, unmanned R22s are still used by Boeing Phantom Works for flight-control software development.

March 2006 saw the completion of the Software Enabled Control program sponsored by DARPA. With the help of researchers from UC Berkeley, MIT, and Georgia Tech, Boeing developed the Renegade UAV, which "successfully executed a series of advanced maneuvers: flying optimal routes through a field of pop-up and already-known threats; flying low-level, terrain-hugging profiles to avoid detection; and determining safe landing zones by using vision-based algorithms to process landing site imagery and terrain height information", without real-time human input.[10][11]

Boeing's modified unmanned R22 is marketed as the Maverick UAV. Four are flown by the US Navy, carrying Wescam Electro-Optical/Infrared sensor system, possibly among other sensors.[12]

Software developed for these programs has been implemented into the A160.

Operational history

Flight testing

The Hummingbird made its first flight in January 2002,[13] using a 4-cylinder Subaru engine.[14]

On September 20, 2004, the Hummingbird made its first flight since Boeing took over the program the previous May.[15] The test program has been operated from the Southern California Logistics Airport near Victorville, California.[16][17]

In August 2005, the Hummingbird was flown around Victorville in a 1200-mile course at 60 knots and 4000 feet. This was probably the longest helicopter flight ever.[18] Unfortunately, a mechanical failure caused the helicopter to crash near the end of the flight. Flight testing continued some months later after the crash investigation was concluded. On November 30, 2005, the aircraft successfully completed its first flight with a new 290 kW (390 hp) 6-cylinder gasoline-powered piston engine, hovering about the airfield for about half an hour.[14]

A follow-up turboshaft-powered version, the A160T, was first flown in June 2007.[19] The A160T was flown for 8 hours while carrying a 1000-pound payload on September 27, 2007. The aircraft flew for 12 hours while carrying a 500-pound payload, simulating a multi-sensor military recon mission on October 12. This latter flight used up less than 60% of the Hummingbird's maximum fuel load.[20]

On December 10, 2007, one of the A160T prototypes crashed during a flight test at Boeing Advanced Systems' test facility in Victorville.[21][22] A Boeing investigation determined the incident was caused when sensor data stopped being updated to the flight computer. With the feedback loop for the control system effectively cut, the helicopter "departed controlled flight and impacted the ground at a near-vertical angle." Much of the forensic evidence was burned in the post-crash fire. A number of potential areas that could have caused the software feedback update thread to stop were found, and those known problem areas have been addressed. Flight testing resumed on March 26, 2008.[23]

On May 9, 2008, at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, the A160T demonstrated its ability to hover out of ground effect (HOGE) at 15,000 feet to meet its DARPA milestone. It then surpassed the milestone during the same flight by repeating the HOGE at 20,000 feet altitude. A week later, starting the night of May 14, the A160T demonstrated its un-refueled endurance capabilities with an 18.7 hour flight, landing with over 90 minutes of fuel still on board.[24] It was the longest un-refueled flight of any rotorcraft, and the FAI has awarded Boeing the official endurance record in the 500 kg to 2,500 kg autonomously controlled UAV class for the flight.[25] In August 2008, the A160T began flight testing the DARPA FORESTER radar system.

In August 2009, the A160T was chosen by the US Marine Corps along with the Kaman K-MAX to demonstrate the ability to move 6,000 lb (2,722 kg) of cargo in less than 6 hours for three consecutive days.[26] The A160T successfully completed the re-supply demonstration in early March 2010.


General characteristics

  • Crew: 0
  • Length: 35 ft 0 in (10.7 m)
  • Main rotor diameter: 36 ft 0 in (11 m)
  • Empty weight: 2,500 lb (1,134 kg)
  • Gross weight: 6,500 lb (2,948 kg) each


  • Maximum speed: 160+ mph (258+ km/h)
  • Endurance: 20+ hours
  • Service ceiling: 20,000-30,000 ft (6,100-9,150 m)

See also


  1. ^ Golightly, Glen (December 2004). "Boeing's Concept Exploration pioneers new UAV development with the Hummingbird and the Maverick". Boeing Frontiers. Retrieved 2008-11-07. 
  2. ^ a b Parsch, Andreas (2007-07-01). "Boeing (Frontier Systems) A160 Hummingbird". Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles, Appendix 4: Undesignated Vehicles. Designation-Systems.Net. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  3. ^ Staff (2007-11-01). "Rotorcraft Report: Turbine A160T Flies 8 Hr". Rotor & Wing Magazine. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  4. ^ McKee, Michael W. (2003-04-02). "VTOL UAVs Come of Age: US Navy Begins Development of VTUAV". AHS International. Retrieved 2008-11-07. 
  5. ^ "A160 Hummingbird Unmanned Air Vehicle Conducts First Forward Flight" (DOC). DARPA. 2002-01-31. Retrieved 2008-11-07. 
  6. ^ "Contracts for Friday, September 12, 2003". U.S. Department of Defense. 2003-09-12. Retrieved 2008-11-07. 
  7. ^ Robinson Jr., Clarence A. (June 2007). "High Hover Finds Hidden Hostiles". Signal Online. AFCEA International. Retrieved 2008-11-07. 
  8. ^ Colucci, Frank. "Hummingbird Hunts For a Home". Vertiflite, Fall 2008.
  9. ^ a b c d Staff (2008-05-21). "A160 Hummingbird: Boeing’s Variable-Rotor VTUAV". Defense Industry Daily. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  10. ^ Staff (2006-03-20). "Boeing Completes Successful Autonomous Flight Control Technology Program". Space Daily. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  11. ^ Staff (2005-06-21). "Boeing Team Demonstrates Advanced Autonomous Flight Control for UAVs". Boeing. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  12. ^ Parsch, Andreas (2005-09-01). "Boeing (Frontier Systems/Robinson) Maverick". Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles, Appendix 4: Undesignated Vehicles. Designation-Systems.Net. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  13. ^ Staff. "A160 Hummingbird". Boeing Integrated Defense Systems. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  14. ^ a b Staff (2005-12-02). "Boeing A160 Hummingbird Completes Flight Test". Boeing. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  15. ^ Staff (2004-09-20). "A160 Hummingbird Resumes Flight Testing as Boeing UAV". Boeing. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  16. ^ "Test flight program advances for Boeing A160 Hummingbird unmanned aircraft", Aerotech News and Review, November 23, 2006.
  17. ^ A160 Hummingbird. Boeing.
  18. ^ Anonymous. "UAV's, they should be code named ICARUS". blog. UK TOP SECRET Postman Patel. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  19. ^ Staff (2007-06-18). "Boeing Completes First Flight of A160T Hummingbird Unmanned Helicopter". Boeing. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  20. ^ Staff (2007-10-16). "Boeing Logs 12-hour A160T Hummingbird Flight". Photo Release (The Boeing Company). Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  21. ^ Staff (2007-12-11). "Hummingbird UAV Down Near Victorbille, CA: Details On Loss of Boeing A160 Helo Sketchy". The Aero-News Network. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  22. ^ Warwick, Graham (2007-12-11). "Hummingbird UAV Down Near Victorbille, CA: Details On Loss of Boeing A160 Helo Sketchy". Flightglobal. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  23. ^ Norris, Guy (2008-03-31). "Rigid Rotors". Aviation Week and Space Technology 168 (13): 48–51. 
  24. ^ Staff (2008-05-21). "Boeing Flies A160T Hummingbird Unmanned Rotorcraft for 18 Hours". Boeing. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  25. ^ Staff. "Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) World Records". Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. Retrieved 2008-11-30. 
  26. ^ Trimble, Stephen. "US forces plot new role for unmanned cargo resupply". Flight International, 12 August 2009. Retrieved 14 March 2010.

External links


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