Europe carries the tail light again: taking an eagle eye's view across the world map of unmanned aircraft, it only takes a few seconds to realise that in spite of its technological capabilities, Europe is the slow coach in terms of drone development and new operational ideas.
There had been a few attempts, of course, but many really gave some of their operators-developers cold feet. A notable example of one system that must have had the most protracted and costly development (for its intended performance) is the Phoenix.
There might be a sign of hope for France to alter the European record. Indeed this nation has a requirement for a long range vertical take-off and landing drone, and the lesson given by Northrop Grumman with the Fire Scout seems to be bearing fruit: what safer a platform than one initially intended to carry people and that has proven its worth? Hence Vertivision's (essentially Eurocopter) idea mentioned in our last Drone Update of using the existing manned Colibri to turn it into a drone (see Armada 4/2005, page 61). In all fairness, the idea had first emerged from Christophe Corizzi, then Chairman of CAC Systemes (later taken over by Eads). One can only hope that Europe will have the ability to develop a machine that will prove to be as versatile as its American counterpart is turning out to be (see below). Anyhow, history indeed keeps repeating itself: it is interesting to see that potential money-making platforms re-attract major companies. The Fire Scout was based on a Schweizer Helicopter, the 300C. However, it must be remembered that this started life as a Hughes Helicopter. When the then-Culver City-based company grew dramatically in size to meet the US Army's demands with the 500, the Defender and then the Apache (yes, it was a Hughes!), it divested itself of its smaller activities and sold the 300's production rights to Schweizer, which eventualy became a subsidiary of Sikorsky--in September 2004.
A noteworthy exception in terms of slow European developments is the Austrian Schiebel Camcopter S-100. Apart from this and the smaller and lighter hand-helds, most European programme backbones are of either American or Israeli origin. Talking of convoluted origins, the Swiss Ranger system, the aircraft of which is in fact Iraeli, is not serviced by Rheinmetall as indicated by mistake in our latest supplement on drones but by Ruag as recently pointed out to the author by this manufacturer.
In the combat drone arena, also known under the acronym Ucav, however, things might develop differently. A Ucav is in fact a big aircraft--a reason why they most likely will be built by 'real' military aircraft manufacturers in Europe (as they are in America)--and this is no field to be trespassed on by 'foreigners'. This explains why manufacturers like Saab, Alenia and, of course, Dassault are all working and flying demonstrators. Respectively known as the Sharc, Sky-X and Duc, they are still relatively small but definitely bound to grow to the full size materialised by the Neuron mock-up displayed at the last Paris Air Show. Europe's Achilles' heel in this respect is the United Kingdom "that will have to please" BAE Systems, which is getting increasingly involved on the other side of the Atlantic.
In an interesting development, the Northrop Grumman Fire Scout recently demonstrated that besides supplying intelligence data using existing Army ground control bases, it could--surprise also deliver supplies to locations where it would be far too risky to send a manned helicopter. Towards the end of a major demonstration in early August in Yuma, the test team deliberately severed communications ties with the drone, "which then proceeded to deliver supplies to a remote location", according to Northrop Grumman official, who added, "this crucial mission was completed when Fire Scout delivered supplies to a soldier, who unloaded the supply pod, then pressed a button on the outside of the vehicle, triggering its return to the launch point". The Fire Scout has a payload of 600 pounds (about 250 kg).
In fact the Fire Scout is demonstrating that it is just the jack-of-all-trades its manned counterpart quickly became decades ago. Indeed, a few days prior to this demonstration, it also showed that it could be turned into a gunship by firing two 2.75-in Mk 66 rockets, the first whilst flying at a speed of 60 km/h and the second at just over 70km/h. No details were given regarding accuracy, but the main purpose of the test clearly was to show that arming the Fire Scout was well within the realm of feasibility.
Licence to Fly
Flying drones in the civilian airspace is becoming an increasingly crucial issue. This is a step that two Galileo Falcos Demos have crossed by having been granted the permission to fly by the Italian Civil Aviation authority. The two birds bear civilian registrations I-RAIE and I-RAIF and their aim is now to win their full civil certification. The Falco, which has redundant controls and expected to have received a fully redundant Zanzottera engine, could then be used for long endurance surveillance missions.
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|Title Annotation:||Drone Update|
|Author:||Biass, Eric H.|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2005|
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