U.S. Army collaborates on advanced UAV engine design

By Patrick C. Miller | February 28, 2018

Locust USA Inc.—a subsidiary of UAV Turbines—has signed a $19 million agreement with the U.S. Army to collaborate on the development of a small turboprop gas turbine engine for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).

The Miami-based company said the engine has applications in both the commercial and military markets. The project is part of the Army's Reliable Advanced Small Power Systems (RASPS) technology demonstration program. UAVT specializes in the development of advanced, heavy-fuel microturbine propulsion systems.

"As the demand for UAV missions increases, a reliable heavy-fuel propulsion system that also produces sufficient electrical power is the key to a successful program," said Dan Mikkelson, UAVT's chief design engineer. "This effort is a potential solution to providing this vital capability with significant advantages over the presently available systems."

The fundamental technology for development of the more advanced 200-shaft-horsepower-class turbine engine that the Army program will develop over the next five years has been demonstrated in UAVT's UTP50R propulsion system. This is a 50-horespower-class turbine engine with a recuperator, high-speed gearbox, variable-pitch propeller and full-authority digital engine control.

Mikkelson noted that the planned advanced technology RASPS engine demonstrator system will increase power to the 200-shaft-horsepower class—with 5 kilowatts or more of electric power—and provide further performance advances over the UTP50R in a high-reliability, long-life engine system. 

“The RASPS program is targeting performance goals that include higher power-to-weight ratio and lower brake specific fuel consumption, using advanced concepts, materials and system optimization,” Mikkelson said.  “A special focus will be on technology that greatly improves reliability over conventional engine systems."

Kirk Warshaw, UAVT CEO, said the company shares the Army’s recognition that propulsion systems are the key to enabling future UAV technologies and are the foundation on which they’ll be based.

"This RASPS development project will demonstrate clear advantages in our technology for military as well as commercial and industrial customers," said Fred Frigerio, UAVT's senior vice president.