Products | R&D
Eurocopter conducted the first public flight of its optionally manned capability in late April at the Istres air base, located in the south of France and near the company’s Marignane facility.
The demonstration aircraft, an EC145 with 70 lbs of control equipment onboard, flew two demonstration paths within a restricted area inside the airfield. The first flight, with a pilot onboard but not controlling the aircraft, flew a 4D (four-dimension) flight path that involved remotely controlled takeoff, flying a programmed route via waypoints at different heights and speeds to represent a cargo run, followed by a return flight using another route to demonstrate a simulated ISR mission. This was then repeated completely unmanned and remotely piloted.
The optionally piloted program, known only to a select group within the company, was started in September 2011 at Eurocopter’s Donauworth facility. The first unmanned flight occurred on April 12, 2013 and this was the second. However, there have been more than 20 flights including monitoring by test pilots and engineers. The EC145 has not flown for longer than 15 minutes, at a speed not exceeding 35 knots and a maximum height of 300 feet within the controlled airspace at Istres.
This news should not be taken in terms of how fast, or how high, or for how long – but rather that Eurocopter has proved it now has the capability to produce a non-platform centric optionally piloted vehicle, something the company says is of interest to its customers who would have a use for it. The U.S. Army has UH-72 Lakotas; the Royal Air Force has taken delivery of new Puma Mk2s; and of course there are numerous military customers for the EC725 and NH-90. This is just the beginning.