While sometimes you must wait your turn, the T700 is boldly taking its “tern” now. In January, a T700-powered Tern Integrated Propulsion System Test (IPST) completed sustained vertical operations for the first time during testing in the California desert.
The T700-powered Tern program is a medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned air system (UAS) designed by Northrop Grumman and sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research. GE Aviation is providing a modified version of the T700 (powerplant for the Black Hawk and Seahawk helicopters among others) that includes modifications to the lubricating system along with the addition of a Full Authority Digital Engine Control system to enable vertical operation and control.
“This represents a significant milestone for the engine and the overall program,” said John Martin, GE’s Advanced Turboshaft Project leader. “We’re excited about the progress we’ve been able to demonstrate and the prospects for Tern going forward.”
Tern seeks to greatly increase the effectiveness of forward-deployed small-deck ships such as destroyers and frigates by enabling them to serve as mobile launch and recovery sites for specially designed UASs. Tern envisions a UAS that could operate from helicopter decks in rough seas or expeditionary settings while achieving efficient long-duration flight.
To provide these and other previously unattainable capabilities, the Tern is a tail-sitting, flying-wing aircraft with a twin contra-rotating, nose-mounted propulsion system. The aircraft would lift off like a helicopter and then perform a transition maneuver to orient it for wing-borne flight for the duration of a mission. Upon mission completion, the aircraft would return to base, transition back to a vertical orientation, and land. The system is sized to fit securely inside a ship hangar for maintenance operations and storage.
Next steps are to complete IPST ground testing, followed by air vehicle installation and flight testing over land. The engine will then transition to at-sea demonstrations of takeoff, transition to and from horizontal flight, and landing on the deck of a ship at sea.