Parc life

Craig Hoyle / ParcAberporth

You have to hand it to the backers of the ParcAberporth unmanned air vehicle centre of excellence in west Wales – they certainly have vision.

Welsh Assembly first minister Rhodri Morgan proudly coined the flight demonstration at the site on 7 September as a “flyerless Farnborough” or a “pilotless Paris”. But as with every air show, all airspace users are hostage to weather conditions, and solid cloud cover, high winds and scattered showers do not make for good flying. And so it was that the elements conspired against ParcAberporth 2005, limiting the airborne element of the day to the numerous light aircraft and helicopters which delivered the luckier visitors (the rest of us “enjoyed” an almost two-hour coach journey each way from Swansea) and Elbit Systems’ Hermes 450. The Israeli system – the basis for the UK’s future Thales-led Watchkeeper UAV – managed to beat the weather conditions by performing an early morning take-off.

Luckily, a pre-demonstration of the Hermes 450 conducted from ParcAberporth on 5 September proved more insightful, and I was lucky enough to receive a full briefing on the system’s capabilities, as well as see the UAV and its ground control station up close, watching imagery from its electro-optic and infrared payload. And flying in from Cardiff that day was a world away from the bus ride that was to follow.

In flying terms ParcAberporth failed to live up to its billing as a pilotless Paris, with original plans for 11 air vehicle demonstrations trimmed to four by certification, time and cost considerations and eventually restricted to one by the weather. But the number of visitors and exhibitors doubled over last year’s inaugural event, and infrastructure at the West Wales airport site has leapt ahead during the same period.

From humble beginnings great things can grow, and the Welsh Development Agency is demonstrating the highest level of support for the ParcAberporth initiative. The message from this year’s event is clear – expect much more in 2006 and for many years to come.

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