Cadets' Design A Finalist For UAV Program

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The U.S. Air Force is down to two designs for its next drone project -- one from a military contractor, and one from a class of seniors at the Air Force Academy, the Air Force Times reported this week. The 2008 design by the cadets is still in the running because it's so simple and should be cheaper to produce, said Steve Brandt, a professor of aeronautics at the academy. "The cadet design has survived a lot of subsequent development and is still pretty much in its original form," he said. The design is "stable and sleek," according to the Times, with a 24-foot wingspan and two T-38 engines. Cadets are still involved with the project, managing the wind-tunnel tests for the design.

The drones are needed for target practice. The Air Force now uses F-4s that have been modified as drones, and plans to replace those soon with modified F-16s. But those drones aren't "stealthy," Brandt said. "All U.S. weapons systems have to be tested under realistic conditions before they're fielded, and if we really think that other countries are going to have stealthy fighter airplanes, then testing those missiles against QF-4s and QF-16s may not be adequate," he said. The target price for the new drone is $3.5 million. No definitive timeline has been set for its production, Brandt said.