Italian aerospace firm Leonardo has contracted UK-based 2Excel Aviation for the Tempest flight test aircraft (FTA) program, involving a commercial airliner overhauled into a flying laboratory.
Program developers will run “futuristic sensors and communications tests” on the modified aircraft, “Excalibur.”
According to Leonardo, “the aircraft is being modified to supplement the transformational ‘digital-first’ approach the Team Tempest partners are taking with regard to the testing and evaluation of Tempest’s next-generation electronics.”
The aircraft will provide a “real-world” environment necessary for the “latter stage development” of the sixth-generation aircraft under development by a consortium of four manufacturers. The Excalibur will help develop “integrated sensors, non-kinetic effects, and communications,” Leonardo is designing for Tempest. In addition to Leonardo, BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, MBDA, and the UK Ministry of Defence are partners in the project.
According to the Royal Air Force website, the Tempest will have manned, unmanned, and optionally-manned options, including “scalable autonomy” for the pilot in the manned version.
Leonardo wrote that the aircraft testbed “could also be used to complement the development of uncrewed technology, including acting as a control hub for uncrewed platforms undergoing test.”
Further still, Excalibur will be used to “de-risk” the technology being developed for the aircraft set to replace the RAF’s Eurofighter Typhoon starting in 2035.