Northrop Grumman Speculation Continues Over ‘Super Talon’

Burt Rutan's ARES Concept a possibility for the USAF T-X Training System

Last July it was known as the ‘Biggest USAF Contract That Nobody was Talking About’. Since then funding for the new advanced jet training system has jumped tenfold and in the latest five-year spending plan $306 million has been put aside for the T-X programme- the replacement for Northrop T-38C Talon and its simulators.

According to the US Patent and Trademark Office, Northrop has applied to register the rights to the term ‘Super Talon’. Whether this is a major overhaul of the original aircraft or a new pu

rpose built design is yet to be seen. Boeing are the only other company interested in competing at this time, though have made no soundings for what direction they suggest for the system. The scheduled introduction of the aircraft is 2017 if the USAF does not chose an off-the-shelf model to replace it.

Northrop Grumman‘s advanced development team has been busy lately. The last two years has yielded the revelations of Wild Thing, MQ-X and, most recently and featured on this blog, Firebird. Now, this otherwise secret concept may have leaked outside Northrop’s version of Skunk Works. The ARES Concept as developed by Burt Rutan is one of the more exotic options that  Northrop Grumman are looking into. A re-built T-38 with 9g maneuvering, increased engine power, embedded training suites and a digital cockpit are some of the improvements possibly on the cards.

USAF officials are expected to brief the Defense Acquisition Board about the requirement in June. Until then we can probably expect more speculation to surface over the coming weeks.

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Northrop Unveils Latest Spy Plane

Northrop Grumman Firebird UAV

Only last week the rumour mill was rife with talk of a new class of UAV flying over Beale Air Force base, California. If you have the time to trawl through the speculation, it was soon clear this wasn’t simply a modified MC-12 Liberty as used for surveillance and reconnaissance in Iraq. Sure enough, Northrop Grumman have unveiled their new spy plane, the Firebird. The UAV is filled with high definition cameras, electronic eavesdropping gear and is developed from scaled composites.

The Announcement states:

“Firebird’s universal interface is similar to plugging a memory stick into a personal computer that is automatically recognized without needing to load additional software.

“Not only have we increased the number of ISR sensors working simultaneously in an aircraft of this size, but we can also incorporate various sensors that complement each other – greatly enhancing Firebird’s information-gathering value for warfighters,” said Rick Crooks, Northrop Grumman’s Firebird program manager. “Firebird is an adaptable system that makes it highly affordable because of the number of different missions it can accomplish during a single flight. It’s a real game changer.”

The biggest development is that the aircraft can be optionally manned when required and can carry upto 1,200 pounds, making it versatile for a range of different combat roles. Payloads other UAVs may be comparably higher, but the optional inclusion of an operator, at least as test bed for new sensor technologies could be a major factor that could get NG more than a few orders.

UAV Payload Comparison

It’s success will be better measured when the aircraft is entered into Joint Forces Command’s Empire Challenge exercise later this month.