Textron angles to land first customer of its new 'Nightwarden' tactical drone


LE BOURGET, France – Textron Systems unveiled a successor to its “Shadow” tactical unmanned aircraft system at the Paris Air Show Monday, pitching the “Nightwarden” drone as a more operationally flexible aircraft for militaries worldwide.

Speaking to a group of reporters on the blistering tarmac of the aerospace powwow outside of Paris, senior vice president for unmanned systems Bill Irby said the new aircraft resembles the Shadow M2 in appearance but offers “significant” improvements.

It features a range of up to 1,100 kilometers, a takeoff weight of 750 lbs, a dual-bay payload capacity of 130 lbs, the ability to fly 15 hours at a time, and a top speed of 90 knots. A water-cooled rotary engine makes for a reduced acoustic signature at greater power output and electrical output over the company’s previous models.

The Nightwarden, which is suitable for both reconnaissance and strike missions, is built on an open architecture, and the company promises improved beyond-line-of-sight satellite communications features for operators. As for armaments, Irby noted the option of installing the Textron-made Fury, a precision glide munition, on the aircraft.

Notably, the executive said the new drone would be flown by “operators,” not actual pilots, who often require extensive training. Being able to fly the Nighthawk would take a mere 16 weeks of learning, Irby told reporters.

As is often the case with new product launches, Textron officials were tight-lipped about which countries have shown interest in the new drone. A press release only says that the system has logged 400 hours of flight time during testing and demonstration, witnessed by “delegations from Europe, the Mideast and the Asia-Pacific region.”

In addition, Irby said the company is “in discussions” with potential customers, preparing various proposals to find a first user.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, who appeared alongside Irby here to tout his state’s friendliness to business and manufacturing, said the Nighthawk would be produced in Hunt Valley, Maryland. “I look forward to seeing some launch customers . . . later this year,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Shadow drone, used by the United States, Italy, Sweden and Australia, logged its 1 millionth flight hour last week, a first in the class of similarly sized unmanned aircraft, according to Textron.

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