(Image source: Airbus Helicopters)

Airbus Helicopters VSR700 makes first fully autonomous flight

The Airbus Helicopters VSR700 demonstrator – a light military tactical unmanned aerial system (UAV) developed by Airbus Helicopters SAS (formerly Eurocopter) of Marignane, France and Paris-based Naval Group – took off for a fully unmanned autonomous flight at the Istres-Le Tubé military air base northwest of Marseille, France.

The flight established compliance with demanding regulatory and safety systems necessary for future unmanned flight in France. During the exercise the VSR700 demonstrator performed a 30-minute flight, successfully executing a variety of flight patterns before landing in an autonomous mode. The UAV was piloted and monitored from the ground station located at the base.

The Airbus Helicopters has been operating the VSR700 – which stands for “700 kilogram Vertivision Surveillance Rotorcraft” – autonomously with a safety pilot onboard since May 2017 as part of its accelerated development program.

(Image source: Airbus Helicopters)

The VSR700 is light, single-engine, diesel-powered helicopter based on the civil Cabri G2 developed by Hélicoptères Guimbal, based in Aix-en-Provence, France. The new VSR700 solution is tailored to the new medium-sized frigate requirements of the French Navy.

The payload of around 250 kg is intended for optical reconnaissance instruments and radar and the diesel engine has been fine-tuned to military and naval requirements.

Additionally, the automatic flight control systems have been developed to meet the new regulatory standards for this new type of critical operational capability.  

The UAV has an endurance of around 8 hours at 100 nautical miles. The system will initially offer extended surveillance capabilities for navies, allowing them to preserve manned helicopter flights for critical missions.

“The Earth’s curvature means a frigate can survey an area of about 100 km,” says Régis Antomarchi, who heads the VSR700 program. “With the VSR700, this radius is multiplied many times over.” Antomarchi adds: “Ship-borne UAVs are already available, but they are either lightweight, and therefore not powerful enough to carry the necessary instruments, or they are relatively large, making operation more complex. The VSR700 fills this gap.”

Users will benefit from the system’s low operational cost thanks to its proven civil certified Cabri G2 platform and its low consumption diesel engine. The ideal size, it is designed to complement manned helicopters, without replacing them, on ships ranging from small corvettes to major warships.

The prototype will be rolled out in 2019.

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William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include literally anything that has to do with space, past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.
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