US firm targets unmanned helicopter market with two new designs

Washington DC
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A Colorado, US-based supplier has unveiled two new unmanned helicopters designed to challenge the Saab Skeldar and Schiebel S-100 in bids for US contracts.

Scion Aviation intends to start flight tests in the fourth quarter of this year with a 68kg (150lb)-class unmanned air system (UAS) called Weasel, said chief executive Jim Sampson.

The Weasel is being designed offer a 36kg payload capacity for a wide range of military and civil government applications, Sampson said.

He cited the competition for a mid-endurance UAS contract for the US Special Operations Command as one near-term opportunity. The aircraft also could be offered to border protection, coast guard and law enforcement agencies, he said.

A full-scale model for a larger vehicle, Badger, was also on display at the AUVSI Unmanned Systems North America convention in mid-August.

The larger aircraft is being considered for crop-dusting flights, Sampson said.

The announcement indicates that Scion is planning to broaden its business portfolio.

Sampson launched the company 10 years ago to produce a replacement for the Bell 206 JetRanger, but the financial turmoil after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the USA removed potential backing from his original investors.

Scion went on to find a niche as a rapid prototyping supplier to L-3 Communications and Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works unit.

Sampson then leveraged the company's initial investment in two advanced autoclaves for curing aerospace composite materials into a niche business.