Paris Air Show: Airbus eyes up maiden VSR700 prototype flight
Airbus is building towards its first flight of the VSR700 rotary-wing TUAS prototype this year - an occasion that will see the vehicle tested without a pilot seat and demonstrate its fully autonomous flight mode.
That level of progress would be an evolution of test developments that saw a sister optionally piloted demonstrator make its own autonomous maiden flight at a military airbase in Istres, France in 2018 and permitted the manufacturer to gain key technological insights into the wider programme.
Currently, flight test activities are concentrating on the development of unmanned functions like automatic flight control system performance and ground station communication, according to an Airbus spokesperson.
As part of contractual arrangements between the DGA and industry partner Naval Group, the VSR700 programme team is currently carrying out de-risking studies, a pre-development period that is due to be followed by the finalising of an industrialisation contract.
‘The de-risking studies enable certain technological capabilities to be investigated and thus choices made for the development phase,’ the spokesperson added. ‘These first studies will run until 2021 and will equally incorporate a demonstrator performing flight tests from a frigate at sea to support the risk reduction phase.’
Design of the new prototype includes a remodeling of the aircraft’s outer fairings for ‘optimised access to equipment’ and will keep the same diesel engine used on the earlier demonstrator, Airbus confirmed.
The French Navy will eventually incorporate the UAS into its unmanned fleet with shipborne deployments from the future FTI medium frigate expected.
Under France’s Navy Airborne Drone System programme, the VSR700 is due to enter service in 2028.
When asked about the feasibility of whether it could potentially accelerate testing developments and handover the drone to the navy in an expedited manner, the Airbus spokesperson explained that, ‘we are listening closely to the customer requirements and market expectations in order to develop and be able to deliver an UAS that will fulfill the operational requirements of navies worldwide’.
The VSR700 is derived from the Cabri G2 light helicopter with capabilities including an endurance of approximately 8h at 100nm and an ability to carry multiple payloads.
A technology development contract covering rotary-wing drones and the VSR700 was provided to Airbus and Naval Group by the DGA in January 2018.
Subcontractors on the programme include Thales, Guimbal Helicopters and Safran.