Airbus Helicopters has begun at sea trials for the VSR700 unmanned aerial system (UAS) it is developing for the French Navy.
The trials evaluated autonomous take-off and landing capabilities of the UAS using an optionally piloted vehicle (OPV) based on a modified Guimbal Cabri G2 equipped with the autonomous take-off and landing (ATOL) system developed for the VSR700.
As explained by the company, the surrogate trials pave the way for the upcoming demonstration of the VSR700, at sea, onboard a French Navy frigate.
“These tests in real-life conditions constitute a crucial step towards the campaign that we will conduct at sea with the DGA 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.”
The test campaign was conducted off the coast of Brest, France, onboard a civilian vessel equipped with a helicopter landing deck in the presence of experts from the French defense procurement agency DGA.
Beyond demonstrating the ATOL system developed for the VSR700, Airbus said the trials were also used to assess the approach procedures before landing on the vessel. The company said both the semi-autonomous and the fully autonomous modes of the ATOL system were demonstrated with success in different sea states.
The VSR700 uses Airbus DeckFinder to enable autonomous ship deck take off and landings. In total, 150 autonomous launches and recoveries took place. The handling and maneuvering of the OPV, representative of the VSR700, on the ship deck were also tested.
Designed to operate alongside other shipborne naval assets, the VSR700 is a UAS in the 500-1,000 kg maximum take off weight range. It can carry multiple full-size naval sensors for extended periods and can operate from existing ships, alongside a helicopter.
The first prototype of the VSR700 performed its maiden flight in 2020 and expanded its flight envelope in 2021. In April 2021, the DGA ordered a second prototype of the UAS.