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News > AFRL Transitions Improved Avionics Hatch for Unmanned Aircraft
Unitized hybrid GLARE avionics hatch.  (AFRL Photo)
A unitized hybrid avionics hatch on the Aurora Onion Remotely Piloted Aircraft, utilizing Glass Reinforced Aluminum Laminate (GLARE), a technology with promise for other applications. (AFRL Photo)
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AFRL Transitions Improved Avionics Hatch for Unmanned Aircraft

Posted 6/14/2013   Updated 6/14/2013 Email story   Print story


by Holly Jordan
Aerospace Systems

6/14/2013 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is improving the maintainability and sustainability of aircraft components through the successful transition of an improved avionics hatch for use on the Orion Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA).

AFRL researchers, in conjunction with Aurora Flight Sciences and UCLA, completed a small business technical effort through which they demonstrated the feasibility of a hybrid unitized avionics hatch structure. This hatch is part of the primary fuselage structure and features a skin made of Glass Reinforced Aluminum Laminate (GLARE) and co-bonded J stiffeners.

The use of GLARE represents a significant improvement over traditional materials. It withstands impact energies 50 percent higher than Orion's previous carbon composite hatch, without the need for maintenance. The use of GLARE also reduces the likelihood of Foreign Object Damage (FOD) when landing on unprepared runways. Additionally, compared to aluminum designs used on other aircraft, GLARE significantly improves fatigue life by resisting fatigue crack propagation. In this demonstration, GLARE was tested to over seven aircraft lifetimes of loading with no discernible crack growth.

The new hatch is tentatively scheduled to enter service later this year on Aurora's Orion RPA, a long-endurance, unmanned aircraft capable of flying for five days with a 1,000-pound payload at an altitude of 15,000 to 30,000. The Orion RPA will provide the Air Force with a medium-altitude extreme persistence vehicle capable of a variety of applications, such as unmanned surveillance and communications relay.

The success of this effort has spurred AFRL researchers to look for other applications for GLARE technology, including use on the Orion wing leading edge.

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