officials are awaiting results of government testing of the “Yellow Jacket” aircraft, a secretive project to design a “multi-intelligence” aircraft capable of supporting troops on the ground, says Waldo Carmona, who heads up networked tactical intelligence for the company.
The system, based on the KingAir 350 airframe and quietly developed for an unnamed customer over the last 13 months, could see operational use soon, depending on the testing results.
The single-aircraft Yellow Jacket is a contractor-owned, contractor-operated system. First flight took place last July. Carmona boasts that Yellow Jacket is the first fully fused, multi-intelligence aircraft of its size currently being delivered for use.
However, the tactical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) market is robust, with such companies as Sierra Nevada,, and offering various concepts.
Work underpinning Yellow Jacket has provided lessons and risk reduction for the company’s Enhanced Medium-Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System (Emarss), Carmona says.
Boeing won the U.S. Army’s $323 million Emarss contract in November 2010 but only began work in earnest last summer owing to a source selection protest.
Yellow Jacket shares the same “nose” as the Emarss aircraft, also based on the KingAir 350. The Emarss aircraft currently carries the Wescam eletro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensor ball, which is capable of collecting full-motion video, under the nose. But Carmona says the design allows for quick switch-out with other sensors, including a hyperspectral payload or different EO/IR ball.
The two aircraft also share a common Ku-band satellite communications dome on top of the aircraft.
The bellies of the aircraft, however, differ. Carmona says the goal with Emarss was to keep the belly “pristine” for the signals-intelligence (sigint) mission, which requires an antenna farm on the underside of the aircraft. Yellow Jacket, however, was developed much faster and includes a wide-area surveillance system — the same camera used by the L-3 in its “Constant Hawk” aircraft. The Constant Hawk aircraft have been used by the company to support Army operations for forensic intelligence and hunting improvised explosive devices in Iraq. The sensor was developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Lincoln Laboratory.
Yellow Jacket also contains some “conventional sigint” collectors on the belly as well, Carmona says.
He notes that Yellow Jacket is capable of 6-hr. missions.
Meanwhile, Boeing is conducting work on its pathfinder Emarss aircraft, a company-owned KingAir 350 that will be used as a production testbed, but not for operations. Under the Emarss contract, Boeing is expected to deliver on what Carmona acknowledges is a “sporty” schedule of four aircraft in December for limited user test in Afghanistan.
The development pathfinder aircraft will “look like” an Emarss in March after having all of the external modifications done, after which mission systems will begin being added.
Yellow Jacket is fullycertified, Carmona says, which should also help expedite work delivering Emarss on time.