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Northrop Grumman Corp. has completed laboratory testing of a 1/5th scale model of a new, embedded antenna that could replace the current satellite communications (SATCOM) antenna in the US Navy’s Advanced Hawkeye early warning and battle management aircraft. The milestone represents the company’s most significant progress to date in developing cost-effective ways to embed antennas in the load-bearing, composite structures of the next-generation aircraft and ships. Northrop Grumman conducted the work as part of a $2.5 M, two-and-a-half year manufacturing technology contract awarded by the Office of Naval Research in June 2003. The benefits of replacing the Hawkeye’s current cone-shaped SATCOM antenna, which extends above its rotating radar dome with an equivalent embedded antenna, are significant. Northrop Grumman designers calculate that embedding the antenna would reduce the Hawkeye aerodynamic drag and reduce its weight by 20 lbs. These improvements would give the Hawkeye greater time-on-station, improve its single-engine rate-of-climb and enhance its overall flying qualities. The Northrop Grumman team has begun baseline testing of a full-scale SATCOM antenna at the company’s Bethpage antenna facility. Using that data they will build several full-scale embedded composite SATCOM antennas for testing. Beginning this summer, the engineering team will also investigate antenna-manufacturing processes, looking principally at how the autoclave process affects the electrical performance of an antenna system, including its alignment and registration. An autoclave is a pressurized oven used to heat, shape and cure composite structures.
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