On December 15, a demonstrator of autonomous flying-wing technology was tested at the Aeronautical Test Range in Chitradurga, Karnataka. The test was conducted by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the entity tasked with developing the technology in question. DRDO has not yet commented on the objectives of the demonstration flight. The aircraft operated in a tailless configuration per se.
Presently, the UAV is referred to as the Stealth Wing Flying Testbed (SWiFT), and earlier, the Autonomous Flying Wing Technology Demonstrator and the Autonomous Unmanned Research Aircraft (AURA). This aircraft configuration features a tailless flying wing devoid of vertical or horizontal stabilisers. Operating at high subsonic velocities, the aircraft is propelled by an internally located compact turbofan engine.
The design of SWiFT bears an extraordinary similarity to that of the lethal B-2 Bomber jet manufactured by the United States.
The year 2021 marked the commencement of ground experiments on SWiFT by DRDO. One kilogramme is the All-Up Weight (AUW) of SWiFT.
Low, medium, and high-speed transportation tests were conducted on the initial assembled prototype throughout the trials. The purpose of these evaluations was to assess the performance of the aircraft and the equipment installed at the ground control station. The testing ascertained the unmanned vehicle’s capability to operate effectively at high speeds. The model was constructed using tailless.
SWiFT is a technology demonstration by DRDO to support the Ghatak Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle. SWiFT is a “scaled-down variant” of the currently under development Ghatak. The primary purpose of the SWiFT unmanned aerial vehicle is to demonstrate and validate the high-speed and covert landing capabilities of autonomous vehicles. The taxi trials concluded in July 2022, during which the aeronautical test range of the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) in Challakere, Karnataka, validated the takeoff and landing capabilities of SWiFT.
The Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) in Bangalore is responsible for designing the Ghatak UCAV.
The inaugural takeoff of the demonstrator occurred at the Aeronautical Test Range in Chitradurga in July 2022. It was a triumph. This model’s vertical stabiliser (tail) was identical to pre-fifth-generation aircraft. The aircraft arrived at the designated waypoint and landed without incident after takeoff. Throughout the flight, it became evident that both the soaring wing configuration and the autonomous flight control system exhibited practicality.
Due to DRDO’s reluctance to assume the liability of flying an entirely new design, the vertical stabiliser was employed for testing intentions and not intended for future operational implementation. The DRDO refrained from specifying whether the vertical stabiliser functioned as intended, functioned as a backup system, or was used to record the flying characteristics of the UAV throughout the investigations.
NPO Saturn Russia manufactures the NPO Saturn 36MT turbofan engine that drives the SWiFT. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), sophisticated trainers, and light attack aircraft are all propelled by this engine. Over time, it will be replaced by the Small Turbo Fan Engine (STFE), developed by the Gas Turbine Research Establishment and possesses a capacity of 450 kgf (4,413 Newtons). This engine is now certified. Furthermore, an unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) known as the GHATAK could be equipped with a dry variant of the Kaveri after-burning turbofan engine, capable of generating a thrust of 48 KiloNewtons. The dry variant of the Kaveri after-burning turbofan engine will be more potent and fuel-efficient than the STFE.
In September 2022, a contract was established between the DRDO and Godrej Aerospace to produce eight dry Kaveri engines. This arrangement enables the DRDO to conduct further testing before the expected completion of all trials in 2025.
The DRDO’s Combat Vehicles Research & Development Establishment (CVRDE) laboratory has developed the UAV’s landing gear, an additional critical component. Due to the restricted volume of the bay and the increased quantity of braking energy that must be absorbed during a high-speed landing, a unique rotating system for retraction and deployment is required.
A retractable landing gear of the tricycle-nose wheel variety, a hydro gas telescopic strut capable of absorbing energy for a maximum gross weight of one tonne, a hydraulic system for retraction, deployment and anti-skid braking, and a MIL-STD 1553B bus-based controller for landing gear operations and system health monitoring are the most notable characteristics of the landing gear.
Upon completing the SWiFT airframe, the landing gear systems were supplied and integrated. A variety of qualification tests were conducted, encompassing strength and impact tests. After a sequence of fruitful taxi tests, the inaugural flight of SWiFT was executed using the Landing Gear System developed by CVRDE.
The project is still in the aero design stage; hence, the UAV payload has not yet been announced.
The experimental phase of the Ghatak UCAV prototype is scheduled to conclude by 2025. UCAVs are intended for use by the Indian Air Force (IAF). Procuring deck-based unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) for aircraft carriers and landing platform piers is another area of interest for the Indian Navy.
It is known that the IAF is also considering using the SWiFT model, albeit it is unclear for what purpose.
India may now design airframes for fifth- and sixth-generation aircraft since the SWiFT design has been verified.