Leonardo contracts next stage of Tempest flight test aircraft ‘Excalibur’

Sept. 22, 2021
The Tempest flight test aircraft (FTA) program will see a commercial airliner completely overhauled, turning it into a flying laboratory for combat air technology

ROME - Leonardo has placed the latest in a series of contracts with UK-based aviation services company 2Excel to commence the next stage of the Tempest flight test aircraft (FTA) program. The program will see the partners completely overhaul a commercial airliner, turning it into a flying laboratory for combat air technology. On-board, scientists and engineers will test futuristic sensors and communications for the Future Combat Air System that the UK and its international partners are developing to fly into service in 2035.

Named ‘Excalibur’ after the legendary sword of King Arthur, 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. Excalibur will provide the real-world environment necessary for the latter stages of development of the complex, integrated sensors, non-kinetic effects and communications Leonardo is developing. Excalibur will be available to the international partners to de-risk technology being developed for the Future Combat Air System and the aircraft could also be used to complement the development of uncrewed technology, including acting as a control hub for uncrewed platforms undergoing test.

This latest contract builds on two years of work by Leonardo and 2Excel on the FTA concept and design phase. That phase saw the partners evaluate the suitability of a commercial airliner as a testbed and digitally model some of the proposed modifications, including significant changes to the nose section. The new contract covers preparatory work on the real aircraft procured by 2Excel and will allow development work to continue at-pace.

Leonardo, a founding member of Team Tempest, is the lead for integrated sensing and non-kinetic effects as well as its integrated communication system. The company has successfully worked with 2Excel for many years, employing the aviation specialist’s philosophy of ‘doing difficult things well’ to test-fly advanced electronics such as radar and electronic warfare equipment. That close working relationship has allowed Leonardo and 2Excel to progress the FTA in line with the more agile, transformational approach of the broader program, which aims to cut by half the cost and time needed to build a combat aircraft.

In addition to its primary role, acting as a testbed for equipment and significantly de-risking the program, Excalibur is also expected to see use under other UK and international flight test programs. 

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Military Aerospace, create an account today!