HMS Prince of Wales launches Banshee target drones for the first time

The Royal Navy’s latest supercarrier, HMS Prince of Wales, has launched the fixed-wing drones, called the QinetiQ Banshee Jet 80+, from her vast flight deck to assess how they might be used to train personnel in defending against ever-more-capable fast jets and missiles.

The flight test engineers and operators from QinetiQ flew three of the air vehicles from the drone’s launcher on the Hebrides range off the northwest coast of Scotland. After running out of fuel, the UAVs recovered to land via parachute. The Banshee flights represent the first step for the Royal Navy in exploring how crewless tech could be operated from the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers in the future.

The jet-powered Banshee, which looks like a mini fighter aircraft, has a wingspan of about 8 ft (2.5 meters) and is fitted with twin 45 kg thrust gas turbine engines giving a total of 90 kg of static thrust. It can soar to 25,000ft (7,600 meters), skim just above the waves, flies at speeds up to 400 knots (around 460 mph or 741 km/h), and can stay in the air for up to 45 minutes. The fixed-wing drone can carry a variety of payloads, including infra-red tracking flares, anti-radar chaff dispensers, and radar augmenters.

QinetiQ Banshee Jet 80+ drones launched from HMS Prince of Wales during landmark demonstration.
QinetiQ Banshee Jet 80+ drones launched from HMS Prince of Wales during landmark demonstration. Credit: Royal Navy

Banshee Jet 80+ drone is hard to detect on radar, giving it all the likeness of an incoming missile – making it a realistic adversary for the sailor to train in countering aerial threats. These drones could eventually be carried by Royal Navy warships and provide operational training to task groups wherever they might be in the world, allowing them to conduct air defense exercises on demand to test reactions and hone responses.

The Navy is looking at using QinetiQ Banshee Jet 80+ drones operating from HMS Prince of Wales as a replacement for the Hawk in training exercises. In addition to defense training, the Banshee drone will also be used to test future sensors, weaponry, and radio equipment. The recent tests of three Banshees looked at how the drone and associated support equipment, including the launcher, can be integrated within a busy ship and flight deck.

Banshee Jet 80+ can be used to test future sensors, weaponry and radio equipment.
Banshee Jet 80+ can be used to test future sensors, weaponry and radio equipment. Credit: Royal Navy

It also looked at installing sub-systems on board and procedures for moving and setting up the drone and kit on the flight deck, which has been a hive of activity as the ship trains with F-35B Lightning jets.

“There is a real need for a low-cost drone such as the Banshee that can replicate a range of the threats in the skies and provide a testbed for future payloads,” said Commander Rob Taylor, lead for Royal Navy Air Test and Evaluation. “The key to this is that a warship can carry this drone with it on operations, launch it and use it to keep personnel razor-sharp in countering threats from above. The ability to adapt the payload for differing tasks is also crucial to provide value for money and interoperability across the fleet.”

Earlier, the CH-6 drone was presented in China, which has a top speed of up to 700 km/h and can stay in the sky for about 20 hours. The CH-6 drone was announced during Airshow China-2021.

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