Some of you may have fathomed that our Italian UAV team was a Flightglobal April Fools' Day prank. Those with a sharp eye might have been suspicious about the team-leader's name, and the 'Charlie Croker' picture credit - the artist behind the photos was, in fact, our own Gareth Burgess. For those who haven't seen it yet, it is still worth a read. Who knows? Maybe a UAV flying display team isn't too far away!
While the Boeing 787 and 747-8 appear set to be the commercial showpiece of July’s Farnborough Air Show, military eyes are likely to be drawn to the Italian unmanned formation display team intending to debut at this year’s event.
Farnborough 2010 organisers have yet to give final authorisation for the Foggia-based ‘Squadriglia Tranquilla’ (‘Quiet Squadron’) to participate, but Flightglobal understands that approval is likely to be granted this month.
The nine Alenia Aeronautica Sky-X UAVs have been heavily modified, mainly to reduce fuel and maintenance costs. All of the expensive surveillance equipment used during military operations has been removed, leaving relatively simple pre-programmed on-board guidance. Each Sky-X has also been fitted with a smoke canister.
© Charlie Croker
Although the nine UAVs are completely autonomous in the air, a ground team of seven ‘ghost pilots’ is collectively responsible for devising the display and ensuring each aircraft’s guidance computer has the correct instructions uploaded before flight.
“All of the aircraft individually receive a pre-determined course and GPS tracking means it is a simple matter to program them to fly together,” says the team’s manager, Maggiore Antonio ‘Pesce’ da Prile.
© Charlie Croker
This method of guidance – and the safety limits of the air show – means that the aircraft have a limited repertoire, but are able to fly in various tight formations and even carry out manoeuvres inverted. Two of the UAVs will perform a ‘synchro-pair’ crossover similar to that perfected by the Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows.
“We’re not as fast as the Red Arrows yet,” admits da Prile but, referring to the name of the team, adds: “We are much quieter.
“We wanted to call ourselves ‘No Angels’, because we’re just like the [US Navy] Blue Angels, but with no-one in the cockpit. But I understand this name was already taken by a girl band.”