New Antenna Technology Could Improve Tracking Capabilities

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A new method for embedding antennas in the load-bearing structures of composite aircraft wings could lead to antennas as large as the surface area of a wing, which would be able to detect slow-moving ground targets beneath dense foliage. That task had previously been impossible with conventional antennas. The antenna could also simultaneously track air-to-air missile threats. Northrop Grumman Corp. said last Thursday it will work with the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory to develop the technology. The five-year, $12 million effort could benefit unmanned aerial reconnaissance systems such as the Air Force's Global Hawk. Other aircraft that could use the system, called the Low-Band Structural Array (LOBSTAR), include the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Joint Unmanned Combat Air System and the Air Force Research Laboratory's future Sensor Craft concept.

"Conformal load-bearing antenna structure (CLAS) technology converts otherwise passive structures, such as a wing, into a system element that increases avionics performance and reduces airframe weight and cost," said Allen Lockyer, Northrop Grumman's LOBSTAR program manager. "It also allows us to implement mission functionality that simply would not be possible using conventional antenna technologies." Northrop Grumman has previously used CLAS technology to increase the functionality of other passive aircraft structures such as the tail and the fuselage, he said. The LOBSTAR program represents the first government-funded application of CLAS to low-frequency radar and large primary wing structures. "Five years ago, no one would have tried to integrate an antenna into a wing box that shared the primary structural load. That was just a no-no," said Kevin Alt, Northrop Grumman's LOBSTAR principal investigator. "But by bringing the right disciplines together, we've achieved some surprising and very significant results."