Airbus Helicopters has performed the first autonomous free flight with its prototype VSR700 helicopter unmanned aerial system (UAS). The flight, lasting for ten minutes, took place at a drone test centre near Aix-en-Provence in the south of France, and represents a significant advance from its maiden flight, during which the UAS was tethered to comply with regulatory requirements.
For this flight, Airbus Helicopters implemented a virtual perimeter using geofencing technology, enabling the company to gain flight clearance from airworthiness authorities for free flight. A Flight Termination System that allows the mission to be ended if necessary was also added to the aircraft, as well as autopilot software evolutions and updates, and structural modifications and reinforcements. Future test flights in the programme will continue to progressively open the flight envelope.
The VSR700 unmanned helicopter is derived from Hélicoptères Guimbal’s Cabri G2, and fits into the 500-1000 kg maximum take-off weight range. It offers an optimized balance of payload capability, endurance and operational cost. It is capable of carrying multiple full-size naval sensors for extended periods, and can operate from existing ships, alongside a manned helicopter, with a low logistical footprint.
Bruno Even, Airbus Helicopters CEO, commented: “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. Thanks to the French PlanAero, the programme 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.”