The Boeing unmanned Little Bird (ULB) demonstrator is a modification of the MD 530F single-turbine helicopter, designed for both manned and unmanned flight. The ULB can be remotely operated or programmed for autonomous operations in any of its three operational modes: dual pilot, single pilot or unmanned flight operations. The high payload capacity allows missions to include long-endurance intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions using heavy, high-capability sensors.
Boeing’s unmanned Little Bird (ULB) helicopter demonstrator successfully completed its first flight in September 2004 and the first autonomous take-off and landing was carried out in October 2004. During this phase of testing an on-board test pilot monitored the helicopter’s performance but did not actively fly the aircraft. The first truly unmanned flight was completed in July 2006.
In June 2011, Boeing’s ULB fitted with Thales Magic ATOLS (Automatic Take Off and Landing System) completed an automatic landing on the moving trailer, representing the motion of a vessel. France will also conduct at-sea trials in 2012 with a H-6U ULB using an automatic deck landing system.
The business operations centres responsible for development of the Little Bird include Boeing Rotorcraft Unmanned Systems based in Mesa, Arizona, Boeing Advanced Systems, the Boeing Company in St Louis, and Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, St Louis.
The unmanned Little Bird demonstrator aircraft has safely conducted more than 500 hours of UAV technology flight testing since its first flight in September 2004. The demonstrator has supported the definition and qualification of US Army manned and unmanned aircraft operations.
The ULB demonstrator won the American Helicopter Society’s AHS 2005 Grover E Bell award for the best advancement in rotorcraft research for that year.
The unmanned variant being internationally marketed by Boeing is based on the A/MH-6M aircraft. The A/MH-6 helicopters which are used by the US Army Special Forces are based on the MD 500 series.
The ULB helicopter can be fitted with a range of surveillance, communications and weapons to fulfil different mission requirements. The payload capacity is 1,090kg.
The flight tests of the ULB helicopter have been carried out with payloads of an L-3 Wescam MX-15 electro-optical and infrared sensor together with an L-3 Communications tactical common datalink (TCDL).
The ULB helicopter can be armed with 2.75in rockets, the Viper Strike stand-off precision-guided munition (SOPGM) supplied by Northrop Grumman and a 12.7mm GAU-19 Gatling gun. The Viper Strike SOPGM is a gliding munition for stand-off precision attack which uses GPS-aided navigation and a semi-active laser seeker. It is intended for operations that require a flexible (steep or shallow) angle of inclination, particularly in mountainous terrain or urban areas. The munition’s small size and precision provide low collateral damage in cluttered urban environments. ULB guidance system
Boeing developed the ground control station and the air vehicle’s guidance and navigation systems. The air vehicle uses a conventional automatic take-off and landing procedure.
Engine The 485kW Rolls-Royce 250-C30 turboshaft engine is mounted on an incline in the rear section of the fuselage.