Northrop Grumman heads the "Sandstorm/Longshot" unmanned aerial system (UAS) program developed by Unmanned Systems, Incorporated of Montana. The program consists of the Sandstorm UAS and the Longshot internet-based software suite intended to provide the US Air Force (or any UAV operator for that matter) with a cost-conscious training alternative to using full-sized (and expensive) operational UAVs. Since most of UAV accidents occur during take-off or recovery, and sponsored by the a satellite-based control system (leading to over-compensation on the part of student pilots), the Sandstorm has been designed with low-cost training in mind.
The Sandstorm has been specifically developed to mimic a variety of UAV types to date (2012). Students, overseen by an instructor, can connect to the UAV using broadband and controls are tailored to replicate that of the Predator/Reaper types quite closely. A single Sandstorm UAV costs approximately $100,000 compared to the millions required of a single Predator or Reaper. Add to that the cost of operation, maintenance and repairs of these systems including accident costs and the price tag balloons aggressively over the course of a fiscal year. Northrop Grumman states savings per year to the USAF in the millions of dollars per year range if the Sandstorm/Longshot product is utilized to full effect. The internet-based connection of the Longshot software allows for students to control the UAS from anywhere in the world without the inherent delay of satellite connections.
Design of the Sandstorm UAV itself is traditional with low-set, swept monoplane wings, a well-contoured fuselage and wheeled tricycle undercarriage. The aircraft is conventionally powered by an engine buried in the aft portion of the fuselage and driving a three-bladed propeller in a "pusher" configuration. Avionics are held in the forward bulge while optics are mounted in a chin fairing. An air inlet is noted along the aft spine section of the design while vertical tail fins consist of a pair of outward canted rudders along the dorsal side and a single vertical tail fin on the ventral side. Wingspan is 15 feet with a running length of 8 feet, dimensions far less than that of a full-sized Predator or Reaper drone - which means less in the way of ground personnel to help manage the airframe and lower procurement costs.