October 29, 2005 Meet the Snark – an Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle of immense capability that demonstrates just how far the breed has come in such a short period of time. Constructed mainly of Carbon Fibre and Kevlar, the Snark is light and fast (280 km/h), quiet (special rotor blades make it extremely quiet ), virtually invisible to radar or infrared detetection (it recycles its exhaust gases and emits little heat) and can carry a payload of 680kg, offering the ability to pack both massive firepower (enough to sink a ship) and surveillance equipment (such as high res infrared cameras with a magnification of 7500). But wait, there’s more, and this is the clincher. The Snark is the first UAV that runs on diesel fuel, which means it can be easily integrated into any military force – current UAVs require their own special fuel supply to be transported with them whereas the entire US Army plans to run on a single one fuel - diesel. Last and probably most importantly, the Snark can stay airborne for 24 hours at a time, offering an unprecedented loiter time for a machine of this capability.
The Snark is built by New Zealand-based commercial helicopter manufacturer TGR Helicorp and seems likely to put the staunchly independent country on the armaments industry map in a big way as it offers capabilities far beyond any current VTOL UAV.
Apart from the obvious autonomous long-range attack and surveillance capabilities, the payload and stealth aspects of the Snark make it ideal for a range of search, rescue and medical evacuation operations as the Snark can carry two fully equipped soldiers into or out of the battle zone. Clearly, under such circumstance, the Snark’s stealth qualities will be very useful. The Snark is designed to recycles its exhaust gases and consequently emits very little heat, making targeting the Snark with a heat-seeking missile very difficult. The company is enhancing this stealth aspect with specially developed rotor blades to reduce noise. “The Snark can’t be heard more than 250 yards away,” says Rogers..
And the Snark’s remarkable range and speed give it the ability to cover vast territories making it ideal for coast guard duties – not so important to isolated New Zealand, but ideal for its neighbour Australia with its massive coastline.
The Snark is equally as mean and nasty as the creature from which it took its name – the mythical Snark in a Lewis Carroll poem. Already in its third iteration, the machine has developed its immense capabilities at a rapid rate.
“The Snark Mk I and Mk II will be museum pieces,” says TGR Helicorp’s Trevor Rogers. “The Snark MkI had an Australian Jabiru engine which we had both turbocharged and fuel injected and developed our own aircooling system and were getting more than 200 horsepower in a vertical engine format with the blessing of Jabiru’s Phil Ainsworth who is a good friend of mine.”
“The Mk I was giving us eight hours of range,”said Rogers. “The only problem was that it ran on AVGAS and the military want everything to run on a single fuel. So we made the decision to go with a heavy fuel engine and that has turned out to give us a big advantage over the competition as we’re unique in that we’re the only people with a VTOL UAV with a diesel engine.
“There’s a small fixed wing aircraft called the Diamond which is actually powered by a small Mercedes Benz car engine but apart from that, we’re the only ones with a diesel and we have created a purpose built engine for the task – using engines built for automotive use often leads to problems because they’re not designed to run flat-out all the time.
“The engine is designed and built by Delta Hawk in the United States and we’re doing a lot of development work and we’ve taken the engine from 160 horsepower to 245 bhp and we’re aiming to get it to a reliable 300 bhp in the near future.”
“As far as the Snark’s range, the Mk II extended flight duration to 11 hours and we’ve currently extended that with the Mk III to 24.5 hours. But we’re not far from some significant further developments and we think we can probably get the range up to 30 hours with the payload extended to 2000lb.
In order to extend the range and payload to that extent, TGR Helicorp has significantly reengineered every aspect of the Snark. “We’ve reversed the rotation of the engine, developed and built a new long-life gearbox and we’re attempting to significantly improve on the specifications I’ve already given you,” says Rogers.
“The secret to the next step will be in the remote electronic diesel injection system,” says Rogers. “Normal electronic injection runs at 12,000psi, and we’re in the process of developing an injection system with 33,000psi, which will vaporise the droplets, improve the combustion and offer a range of performance optimisation via the onboard computers that is not available anywhere else right now.”
“It’s already a rocket, but we’re expecting much more,”he grins.
“It’s a full-size helicopter which is 28 feet long,14 feet high and six feet wide”, says Trevor, “so we have a lot of potential yet.”
“The aircraft’s current empty weight is 1060 lb (480kg) and the gross weight is 2500 lb (1133 kg) and our payload is 1500lb (680 kg) which blows anything comparable in the UAV area completely out the door. If we can achieve a reliable 2000lb (907 kg) payload, it will become just that much more capable.
“We have fitted 24 missiles, eight defence missiles that we build ourselves and it can fit two Sidewinders too. We’ve even hung a Maverick under it too. It has the potential to be seriously nasty.
“Each snark will sell for US$5 million and will come complete with its own base station making it a very cost-effective one-man operation, autonomous flight aircraft.
“The only aircraft that might vaguely be considered as competition to the snark is the Drummond Fire Scout which is really a 331 Schweizer with 130 lb payload and 65 knots and two hours of range. The specs vary depending on who you talk to, but they’re not really in the ballpark compared to the Snark, and we’ve still got a lot of development potential available to us.”
“The Snark Mk III will fly just before Christmas – after that, we’ll be developing two distinct versions – one for the Army (the Land Snark), and one for the Navy (the Sea Snark), and a civilian version of the Snark is under development and will be unveiled in 2006.
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