Airbus Helicopters’ VSR700 unmanned aerial system (UAS) prototype has flown autonomously for the first time. At a drone test center near Aix-en-Provence in the south of France, the pilotless rotorcraft performed a 10-minute free flight.Based on the Hélicoptères Guimbal’s Cabri G2, the VSR700 made itsmaiden flight in November 2019 when it was tethered to the ground by a 30-m (100-ft) cable to meet regulatory requirements. To enable flight clearance from airworthiness authorities, the latest test flight saw the drone’s flight path restricted by a geofence acting as a virtual perimeter.
The VSR700 is being developed as a heavy naval drone equipped with multiple full-size naval sensors and rescue gear and designed to carry out a variety of missions, including Intelligence, Surveillance Targeting and Reconnaissance (ISTAR), Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW), maritime security, and Search And Rescue (SAR).
The rotorcraft is diesel/jet fuel-powered and measures 6.2 m (20 ft) in length. It’s made to work alongside a full-size helicopter on frigates and similar sized warships and has an endurance of eight hours with a full payload. It boasts a maximum speed of 80 km/h (50 mph) and a flight ceiling of 6,000 m (1,700 ft). In addition, it has special avionics, an advanced flight control system, and the cockpit has been converted to a mission payload bay.
According to Airbus, the flight test program is continuing to open the VSR700’s autonomous flight envelope with sea trials slated for next year.
“The free flight achieved by the VSR700 is a major step leading up to the sea trials that will be performed at the end of 2021 as part of the de-risking studies for the French Navy’s future drone,” says Bruno Even, Airbus Helicopters CEO. “Thanks to the French PlanAero, the program will make full use of two demonstrators and an optionally piloted vehicle to develop and mature the technical and operational aspects for successful UAS operations in a naval environment.”