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The Drone Index: Piaggio Aerospace Hammerhead

August 25, 2015

Italian P1HH UAV

European aerospace firms have been struggling to dislodge the primacy of General Atomics for more than a decade now, with mixed results. It’s almost a lost cause, except every year a new model arrives basking in hype. The dominant European strategy, even if it hasn’t produced viable sales success that can threaten Israel’s chunk of the MALE UAV market, is converting a proven fuselage into a drone. This has only succeeded in bringing cost-effective aircraft to the right venues, i.e. air shows and defense exhibitions. A true trans-national Eurodrone remains elusive.

Maybe it’s because UAV customers don’t need impressive MALEs, which are larger than the usual twin-boom affairs ideal for surveilling terrain. But Piaggio Aerospace begs to differ. Their P.1HH Hammerhead is the sexiest MALE UAV in existence. Based on the P.180 Avanti II, a high performance executive shuttle dubbed the “Ferrari of the sky,” the Hammerhead arrived in 2013 as a serious contender in the MALE domain.

The Hammerhead, 47.27 feet long with a wingspan of 51.18 ft, was ordained a bleeding edge system long before it was first displayed in public. Built as a surveillance and intelligence UAV, its performance characteristics put it in a class of its own.

The high performance PT6-66B engine.

Using Pratt & Whitney PT6-66B engines for its two push-configured turbo-propellers (the blades are behind the wings), a combined 1,700 horsepower gives it a top speed of 731 kilometers per hour. This is on top of its all-weather performance and an operational ceiling that reaches 45,000 ft–most UAVs barely manage 20,000 ft. Its endurance is average, however, at just 16 hours. The Hammerhead’s range exceeds 7,000 km.

Another advantage of the Hammerhead over its competition is its ample storage for avionics and other sensors. Rather than the usual cumbersome nose blister–note the smallish gimbal on its nose, housing an FLIR EO/IR camera–the Hammerhead’s spacious fuselage is designed to carry a customized suite of tools for the operator weighing up to 500 pounds. This is why a Mission Management System was created to synthesize all its features and functions.

Italian P1HH UAV 03

To make it more survivable, a Vehicle Control and Management System (VCMS) and triple redundant safety measures guarantees smooth flying for the Hammerhead. The Hammerhead’s deliberate role as the UAV that pushes the envelope is a result of Piaggio Aerospace’s joint venture with Finmeccanica, with the latter providing avionics and related equipment.

It’s also meant to anticipate the post-Predator era when countries will be looking for next-generation MALE UAVs. The Hammerhead in its current state isn’t combat ready yet but the fact that the UAE’s Mubadala is a majority shareholder in Piaggio Aerospace suggests which corner of the world it’s being tailored for.

Piaggio’s management have made it clear the Hammerhead is being positioned to fill a gap in the UAV fleets of NATO members. In late 2014 the Italian Air Force became the Hammerhead’s first customer, ordering six models that are due by 2016.