Cranfield Aerospace (CAe) has successfully completed the first phase of development of a new autonomous Unmanned Air System (UAS) with vertical take-off and landing capability. It has been designed to provide ISTAR support for ground troops, special forces operations and counter-terrorism. The VTOL capability minimises the need for ancillary ground based equipment and offers the potential for a true ‘perch and stare’ capability. The air vehicle is all electric operation, giving a clean, low noise system that requires minimal preparation.
Flying from Cranfield Airport the system is configured as a 1.4m wingspan platform for the refinement of the flight control system and to test a variety of onboard sensors. The vehicle can be scaled up or down to meet a range of operational needs. The system builds upon CAe’s in-house technology and previous experience in the field of UAS design, incorporating their autonomous control system technology and innovative airframe characteristics, combined with ‘gust insensitive’ operation. This offers a range of unique opportunities for enhanced sensor payload performance combined with system simplicity, robustness and low cost. The system also utilises CAe’s portable and field-friendly Ground Control Station.
The on-going development programme is also addressing the issue of UAS integration into UK airspace, through pioneering and close co-operation with the UK CAA.
CAe Technical Director, Professor Ian Poll says “this is a major milestone in the development of low cost, autonomous UAV systems intended for operation in regulated airspace. It puts Cranfield Aerospace in the vanguard of the drive to develop UAV systems with ‘file and fly’ capability.
CAe Managing Director David Gardner says “for years we have seen so many UAVs with problems associated with launch and recovery, a high dependence on flying skills, too much ground support equipment, and too easy for the enemy to spot and destroy. Valkyrie represents a real breakthrough in providing a simple, easy-to-use system for both front line military and counter-terrorism initiatives. We need to take this forward as a matter of urgency with the cooperation and support of our stakeholders – the need is there and it must be met.”
CAe now intends to move the vehicle forward into the next stages of development, including the incorporation of new payloads and addressing the issues of vertical recovery and all-weather operations. With this highly innovative system, CAe aims to meet the challenge of delivering higher capability for lower through life cost, reflecting the growing strains on the UK defence budget. The system is expected to reach full capability by the end of this year and will be exhibited at Farnborough International Airshow 2010 (Hall 1, Stand B18).
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