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Skunkworks Morphing UAV Launched from Submarine

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posted on Sep, 10 2006 @ 02:17 PM
During a recent scour of the US patent office website in search of new applications by Lockheed, Northrop or Boeing I found a few interesting entries but the most fascinating and relevant was made on behalf of Lockheed Martin and is for the method of launch, recovery and re-launch of an immersible UAV. It was accompanied by this image:

This of course piqued my attention as it features our favourite Skunkworks UAV, the morphing wing.

Morphing UAV thread.

The full patent makes interesting reading and details how this idea could be used by a submerged submarine or a surface ship. The UAV could be equipped with recon or attack payloads.

The UAV is also described in detail or at least its operation is. Inflatable covers would seal large openings such as the jet inlet and exhaust in conjunction with silicon seals on smaller joins and doors. The interior of the plane would also be pressurised with nitrogen to protect it from the pressure exerted by the sea. The UAV could be launched from an ICBM tube on a Trident sub and it could then float partially to the surface, rocket boosters would power it over the surface where the covers over the engine inlets would retract and the jet engine would start. The rocket boosters would then be jettisoned. The UAV is also buoyant so it can make either an engine-off “whip-stall” landing in the sea or a parachute landing on the water, the UAV does not require any pontoons or additional floatation devices.

It even goes into detail of how a lead recon UAV could be launched which would identify time sensitive targets for following armed UAVs which would relay post-attack data back to the lead which would transmit back to the sub or ship.

Unfortunately the 14 diagrams which accompany the patent are not available except the one which I have posted here, so additional information is not really available either but I will try and get them as soon as possible.

Interestingly the patent includes the phrase “the aircraft is preferably unmanned” perhaps leaving it open for using this procedure with a manned craft.

Of course while reading this I couldn’t help but think of our favourite debunked video, perhaps this could become reality at some point!
Jet Taking Off From the Sea

posted on Sep, 10 2006 @ 03:17 PM
its like a smart crusie missle

posted on Sep, 10 2006 @ 03:19 PM

Originally posted by Laxpla
its like a smart crusie missle

No It's a bit different because it's a recoverable craft.

Very interesting find GFAD.

posted on Sep, 10 2006 @ 04:28 PM
If they can build this, and have it work as they envisioned it, it will be a big asset for subs. Since they are the ultimate stealth machine.
BTW, This isn't just for recon, its a strike aircraft.

[edit on 10-9-2006 by Murcielago]

posted on Sep, 10 2006 @ 07:11 PM
I’m not all that convinced that the Cormorant will be worth the cost. What exactly can this do that production X-47B derivatives couldn’t do?

Here are the projected specs: -


Payload – 1000 lb
Endurance – 3 hr
Radius – 500 nm
Max Speed – 0.8M
Ceiling – 35000 ft


Payload – 4500 lb
Endurance – 9 hr
Radius – 1600 nm
Max Speed – 0.7M
Ceiling – 40000 ft

As far as I can see an X-47B taking off from a carrier 1600 nm away from a target could do anything that a Cormorant could do launching from just 500 nm away. The only benefit is perhaps speed to the target but that depends on how long it takes to launch the vehicle from underwater compared to a carrier.

Stealth doesn’t come into it in my opinion since there’s no potential US enemy that would be able to detect the launch of an X-47B from 1000 nm away any more than they could a Cormorant. With good enough sonar it might even be the case that the Cormorant is the easier of the two to detect. There’s also the fact that SSGNs aren’t really built for the literals. Given the nature of its launch and recover methods I’m willing to bet that the Cormorant is probably the most expensive as well both in terms of development, unit price and through life costs (maintenance would probably be a bitch!). In fact, speaking of maintenance, how many launches could an SSGN carry out given that it requires rocket boosters for launch and it could well be very difficult to maintain in the conditions of a submarine; it may only be possible to launch these once.

I honestly can’t see this making it to production, an interesting concept but not all that practical in my opinion.

posted on Sep, 11 2006 @ 03:27 AM
If this patent is for the application of a Cormorant-style craft I think it really could be quite useful, and not just for submarines, the patent details how this could be used on a ship which doesnt require a flight-deck making the ship much smaller and more effective.

The ability to launch both recon and ground attack craft (which I did point out earlier) from a standard ship with little modification is surely something every commander would want. The patent also states that the rocketboosters could be reusable anabling easier maintanence and faster turnaround.

I can obviously see you point that the Cormorant is insuperior in its specifications, obviously being weaker in its endurance and range, if this imbalance could be evened out making the Cormorant more equal to the X-47B this would undoubtably be an invaluable tool.

Also with a reasonable 1000lb payload this system is more cost-effective than expendable missile systems

There was also one point that I forgot to make and that was that when images of the Morphing UAV surfaced most people (me included) thought that the variable wings would improve economics on take-off and then extend for loitering yet the patent explicitly states that the wings change shape "to facilitate storage in the tube of the submarine".

posted on Sep, 11 2006 @ 05:52 PM
How would the sub re-capture the aircraft?

posted on Sep, 11 2006 @ 09:47 PM

Originally posted by gfad
the patent explicitly states that the wings change shape "to facilitate storage in the tube of the submarine".

yep, 2 wings unfurl...heres a pic of what it would look like inside the missile tube.

Originally posted by sardion2000
How would the sub re-capture the aircraft?

The MPUAV would splash down a couple miles from the sub, the sub would deploy a unmanned underwater vehicle to go fetch it.

I would assume the engine air inlet would have some sort of door that would be closed on launches and the splash down's.....otherwise turn-around time and maintenance would be a bitch.

posted on Sep, 12 2006 @ 05:03 AM

Originally posted by sardion2000
How would the sub re-capture the aircraft?

The UAV splashs down in the water, either with a "whip-stall" or a parachute drop. The engine inlets, exhausts and other large gaps are closed by inflatable covers that stop all the water from getting into the fuselage. The UAV is bouyant and releases come sort of cable which can be hooked onto by a recovery vehicle.

posted on Oct, 26 2006 @ 05:38 AM
I thought I'd just update this thread with some additional research I have been doing into this topic.

In an article for Janes Defence Weekly in June 2005, Nick Cook writes that the Morphing UAV is three weeks from its first flight yet no confirmation of an actual flight is available. In the same article Cook describes a system similar to the one in the above patent but doesn’t go into as much detail and quotes manager of Lockheed Skunkworks, Frank Cappuccio saying that such a system will be tested in the following six to nine months. If Lockheed kept to this schedule the technology should have finished testing by April 2006.

Bill Sweetman also wrote about an aircraft very similar to the one described above in a February 2006 article for New Scientist. Sweetman states that some of the Cormorants “unique features” are being tested, this is scheduled to end September 2006 at which point a decision will be made whether to build a flying prototype.

The lack of information on this testing possibly implies that this aircraft may be being given additional attention by the military resulting in additional testing or may even have gone into the black.

posted on Oct, 26 2006 @ 07:08 AM
IIRC LM had a few crashes while testing one or two subscale morphing wing vehicles, they didn’t manage to get off the ground I don’t think. A new attempt is due to start soon I think.

posted on Feb, 10 2007 @ 08:21 AM
Heres a Skunkworks promotional video for this exact project that has just come to my attention in another thread. If this is relatively recent could it signal Lockheeds intentions to make this an operating platform?

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