Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Airbus’ autonomous rotor drone tested at sea in full operational configuration

Airbus Helicopters and the French Armament General Directorate (DGA) has successfully tested the unmanned aerial system (UAS) VSR700 for the first time in an operational configuration from a ship at sea. During the test, the VSR700 performed 80 fully autonomous takeoffs and landings from a civil vessel equipped with a helicopter deck, cruising off the coast of Brittany in the west of France.

Previously, the autonomous takeoff and landing capabilities of the VSR700 were tested from the same vessel using an optionally piloted vehicle (OPV) based on a modified Guimbal Cabri G2 small helicopter equipped with the autonomous takeoff and landing (ATOL) system developed for the VSR700. This time the test campaign took place with the SDAM demonstrator and fully validated the capabilities of the system as part of the French government’s Système de Drone Aérien pours la Marine (SDAM) study.

The autonomous takeoff and landing capabilities are made possible with the use of the Airbus DeckFinder system. The system is capable of taking off and landing on a frigate’s pitching flight deck to an accuracy of 10-20 cm without the need for GNSS/GPS and regardless of degraded visual conditions.

“This flight test campaign was an important step for the VSR700 program as it allowed us to validate the excellent performance of the drone in operational conditions, which were representative of its future missions,” said Nicolas Delmas, Head of the VSR700 program at Airbus Helicopters. “The VSR700 prototype opened its flight envelope in winds above 40 knots, accumulated eight hours of testing in 14 flights, and made successful landings in several different sea states.”

The VSR700 has a maximum takeoff weight of 1,543 lb (700 kg) and can carry a 220 lb (100 kg) mission payload. It is powered by a single 116 kW (155 hp) Thielert Centurion 2.0 diesel engine driving its 7.2 m (23 ft 7 in) rotor. The VSR700 has a cruising speed of 220 km/h (140 mph), an endurance of 10 hours, and a service ceiling of 6,000 m (20,000 ft).

The new test campaign follows two series of trials that were conducted with the DGA in late 2022 and early 2023 from the Levant Island test center located in the south of France. During these trials, the SDAM prototype demonstrated its ability to operate in a maritime environment. The handling qualities of the aircraft were tested, as well as the capabilities of the sensors (a maritime surveillance radar, an electro-optical sensor, and an AIS receiver) alongside the mission system developed by the Naval Group.

The next step will be to see the second VSR700 prototype perform its maiden flight ahead of flight testing onboard a French Navy FREMM during the second semester of this year.