Fighter prototype and pilot-optional aircraft draw crowds at British air show
By CHRISTOPHER DENNIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 22, 2019
RAF FAIRFORD, England — The roar of jet engines was the soundtrack as more than two dozen nations and aeronautical companies showcased next-generation aircraft designs and debuted new product lines at Britain’s Royal International Air Tattoo.
Around 185,000 people attended the three-day event over the weekend at RAF Fairford, about 30 miles west of Oxford, where 245 military aircraft from the air forces of 25 nations were on display and pilots put on aerial displays.
Northrop Grumman’s new Firebird, which is designed for unmanned or crewed flight, made its European debut at the show. The modular intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft system can fly for up to 30 hours at altitudes of up to 25,000 feet.
In comparison, Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk drone flies for more than 32 hours at a ceiling of 60,000 feet. However, Firebird’s crewed option allows it to fly in areas where drones are restricted.
The Firebird’s crew station can be removed and an antenna mounted within hours, leaving the aircraft ready to be used in its unmanned configuration, a spokesman for Northrop Grumman said at the show.
Multiple U.S. government agencies have already placed orders for the new aircraft, Northrop Grumman said.
Visitors to the show also had the opportunity to sit in the cockpit of a concept combat aircraft that the Royal Air Force may fly in the future.
The plane, called the Tempest, will use technologies found in the F-35 Lightning II and is compatible with the U.S. aircraft. The sixth-generation fighter is projected to enter service in 2035, replacing the Eurofighter Typhoon.
The Tempest will offer the option of manned or unmanned flight, said a spokesman for the development team, which comprises several British Defense Ministry departments and U.K. contractors.
Days before the Tattoo, Sweden signed a memorandum of understanding with Britain, agreeing to cooperate on the Tempest project.