Textron’s world-first uncrewed aircrafts are made in Victoria
In 2005, an uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) flew for 18 hours through the eye of Hurricane Ophelia on the Eastern seaboard of the USA. Its mission was to transmit sound and wind data back to ground during the storm, and it did so with a level of fidelity not previously thought possible – the first time in world history that a UAV had survived a hurricane.
It was the Aerosonde Mk. 3, and it was made by a team of Australian engineers in Notting Hill, Victoria.
Since the first uncrewed Aerosonde flight in the 1990s, the local engineering team at Textron Systems Australia have been pivotal in the design, development, and testing of uncrewed air vehicles around the world, with support and funding from the Victorian Government. As an entity of Fortune 500 company Textron Inc., the local manufacturers are also deeply connected to a global network of aerospace primes includes Beechcraft®., BellTM., Cessna®., Hawker®. and LycomingTM.
Their Notting Hill factory alone has produced over 600 uncrewed systems since 1995, including more than 400 of the current Mk4.7 version of the Aerosonde aircraft, with flight testing conducted out of their 8,000 ft base at St Leonards. And you don’t have to travel far to find the rest of their supply chain, with over 120 of their advanced suppliers based in Victoria.
Most of Textron’s personnel also come from Victorian universities. According to Textron MD Jack Kormas, “We have over 200 person-years of experience in aircraft design across all functional areas including avionics, software, electronics, aerodynamics, structures, modelling and simulation, systems integration, and verification and validation – all in Victoria.”
The sovereign network effect
Proximity to suppliers and partners allows Textron to rapidly iterate and evolve uncrewed aerial system (UAS) designs while minimising waste, reducing turn-around time, and maximising efficiency. “What you get are efficiently-designed products that employ cutting edge technologies on accelerated timelines; a true best-value solution,” says Textron MD Jack Kormas.
“In fact, at the peak of production to support overseas combat operations, we were producing one aircraft per day.”
With the ability to undertake multi-mission roles, Textron’s Aerosonde lends itself to a wide variety of contexts, so global demand for the Victorian export is high.
“We currently provide UAS hardware, training, and services to scientific, defence, government, commercial, and education customers around the world. Over 400 Mk4.7 Aerosonde AVs have been built and exported, and the fleet has amassed over 600,000 mission hours across all seven continents with benchmark reliability in some of the harshest environmental conditions. Now, we’re working on a next-gen product design for the Aerosonde that we hope to take to the US.”
But export isn’t Textron’s only goal
“About 20 years ago, a lot of manufacturing went offshore. We’ve tried to buck the trend in our company not just by retaining onshore manufacturing, but helping grow the Victorian ecosystem to become one of the most ground-breaking in the world.
“When it comes to defence, Victoria’s capabilities are second to none.” says Kormas. “It’s one thing to have high-tech capability when it comes to physical assets and equipment, but we also have spatial capabilities in terms of having defence resident in Victoria – we have the land, and the flight test facilities that we can continue to exploit as a world-class solution for defence and commercial clients.”
To build on this potential, government-supported initiatives have been designed to open up collaborative opportunities within Victoria and get like-minded companies working together to prove the health and scale of Victoria's supply chain.
Kormas has played a pivotal role in helping connect Victoria’s defence supply chain. He is the President of the Australian Industry Defence Network (Victorian Chapter), the Treasurer-Director of the Monash Precinct Network and has sat on a variety of industry advisory committees and associations.
“Many of the networking programs I’m involved in help connect primes with local SMEs who can deliver on their projects,” says Kormas. “For example, the Monash Precinct Network is set to bring together high-tech organisations like Pzifer and Bosch in the south-east of Melbourne so we can exploit those capabilities into the greater market. And we’re seeing similar networks appearing in Dandenong in the autonomous buses and trucks sector.”
This is the kind of work the department is prioritising to strengthen one of the most diverse and globally connected ecosystems in the world to ensure that more world-firsts in defence, aerospace and beyond are Made in Victoria
Read more about how the Victorian Government is supporting the state's advanced manufacturing industry.
Page last updated: 27 February 2023