Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles
Appendix 2: Modern UAVs
Copyright © 2008-2009 Andreas Parsch

Boeing (Frontier Systems) MQ-18 Hummingbird

The development of the A160 Hummingbird unmanned long-endurance helicopter was begun by Frontier Systems in 1998 under a DARPA contract. The first step was the development of suitable flight control systems by converting a Robinson R22 helicopter to UAV configuration. The unmanned R22 was marketed as the Maverick UAV.

The A160 itself first flew in January 2002. Its primary feature is the unconventional rotor system. The Hummingbird uses a rigid rotor, with blades that are tapered and have a varying cross section from root to tip. Other than more conventional helicopters, the A160's rotor operates over a wide range of RPM (revolutions per minute). The whole system is designed to provide more efficient flight and higher overall performance (speed, altitude, fuel economy). Apart from the rotor system, the A160 is a relatively conventional design, using a two-blade tailrotor and a retractable wheeled landing gear. It can operate both autonomously (including take-off, GPS waypoint navigation, return to base, and landing) and under remote control. The payload section in the nose can accommodate up to 450 kg (1000 lb) of equipment and sensors, and there is provision for EO/IR (Electro-Optical/Infrared) sensor payloads in a turret under the forward fuselage.

Photo: Boeing
A160 Hummingbird

In May 2004, Frontier Systems was acquired by Boeing. A total of 10 A160 airframes are to be built, and flight testing is continuing to expand the performance envelope and to develop and integrate dedicated sensor packages for various potential military missions (reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition, etc.). As of 2005, the Hummingbird program has also been sponsored by the U.S. Army and Navy, both potential customers of an operational version.

Photo: Boeing

On 15 June 2007, Boeing announced the first flight of the A160T, a turbine-powered derivative of the A160. In May 2008, an A160T demonstrated the endurance of the design with a flight of more than 18 hours. In 2009, the A160T was officially designated as YMQ-18A, and Boeing is currently under contract to build 20 A160T aircraft for the U.S. Special Operations Command.


Note: Data given by several sources show slight variations. Figures given below may therefore be inaccurate!

Data for A160/A160T Hummingbird:

Length10.7 m (35 ft)
Rotor diameter11.0 m (36 ft)
Weight1950 kg (4300 lb)
Speed> 260 km/h (140 knots)
Ceiling8530 m (28000 ft)
Range3150 km (1700 nm)
Endurance20 h
PropulsionA160: 6-cylinder piston engine; 290 kW (390 hp)
A160T: Turbine engine

Main Sources

[1] Kenneth Munson (ed.): "Jane's Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Targets, Issue 15", Jane's, 2000
[2] "Unmanned Aircraft Systems Roadmap, 2005-2030", Office of the Secretary of Defense, August 2005
[3] Boeing Website
[4] Website

Back to Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles, Appendix 2

Last Updated: 10 June 2009