Starting autonomous flight trials of its VSR700 Optionally Piloted Vehicle (OPV) demonstrator, Airbus Helicopters has come a step closer to the first flight of the actual VSR700 prototype in 2018.
A light military rotary-wing tactical unmanned aerial vehicle, the VSR700 is being developed jointly by Airbus Helicopters and Helicopteres Guimbal, the original manufacturer of the civil-certified Cabri G2 helicopter from which the VSR700 is derived.
Sea trials of a manned Cabri G2 have also recently taken place with the support of a French Navy air defence frigate in order to assess the flight envelope of the VSR700 platform for shipborne operations.
“We are pleased to have achieved this milestone only eight months after starting work on the OPV” said Regis Antomarchi, head of the VSR700 programme at Airbus Helicopters. “The OPV is able to autonomously take-off, hover and perform stabilized flight and maneuvers. It will help us mature the technologies associated to autonomous flight and confirm the suitability of the Cabri G2 platform for the VSR700, ahead of the first flight of the prototype next year,” he added.
This phase of flight trials with a safety pilot will focus on refining Airbus Helicopters’ automatic flight control system aboard the OPV, eventually leading to fully autonomous flights without a safety pilot. The VSR 700 flight control system is a fully-digital, multi-channel system with a very high level of redundancy. It takes advantage of Airbus Helicopters unique expertise in digital autopilots.
Developed to meet navies’ requirements for a shipborne rotary-wing tactical unmanned aerial vehicle and complement to manned helicopters, it could also be used in land-based military operations to carry out ISTAR (Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) missions, thanks to the VSR700’s optical sensors and maritime/land radar.
The VSR700 will have a lower operating cost than a helicopter not only thanks to its civil base vehicle and low-consumption diesel engine, but also because it requires fewer resources and less manpower to operate and maintain it, according to the company.