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Airbus Sees Sea Success with Un-C'd UAV

VSR700 Autonomous Take-Off and Landing Tests Show Promising Results in French Armament Program

Airbus Helicopters has begun trials on its autonomous takeoff and landing capabilities for the VSR700, an uncrewed system currently in development with the French Armament Directorate. 

The trials took place using a modified Giumbal Cabri G2 with a custom-made autonomous takeoff and landing system (which Airbus designates as an ATOL, an uncommon acronym). The helicopter operated from a civilian vessel equipped with a landing pad on the tail off the coast of Brest, France, doing a series of tests on the approach procedures required prior to landing in the vicinity of a vessel. The VSR700's flight envelope at sea was under particular scrutiny, being analyzed for any unforeseen real-world aerodynamic effects between the aircraft, the ship, and the rolling waters below. 

In total, the test saw more than 150 autonomous flights, launching and recovering the helicopter repeatedly. The trial proved the current utility of the Airbus DeckFinder system, which is slated to be a day/night, all-weather-capable kit to allow consistent and safe use in conditions deemed too risky for human operation. The helicopter retains one pilot seat for manned testing, but after the first trials that broke in the aircraft and ensured operability, it has been switched over to duty to fulfill more autonomous maneuvers throughout the program. 

Ultimately, the VSR700 should lead into heavier shipborne naval assets in the 1-ton payload range, which planners believe balances the best between payload, endurance, size, and cost. That future aircraft will boast full-size naval sensors for extended surveillance and operation away from its home, whether flying alongside other manned aircraft or as a low-footprint patrol aircraft. 

“These tests in real-life conditions constitute a crucial step towards the campaign that we will conduct at sea with the Directorate and the French Navy later this year,” explained Nicolas Delmas, head of the VSR700 program for Airbus Helicopters. “Using the OPV, we have demonstrated the unique autonomous take-off and landing capabilities of the VSR700. We have also proved the optimal functioning of the vehicle and its command station interface on board a vessel in realistic conditions.”



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