The UK is continuing to trial the use of autonomous drones to inspect the Royal Air Force’s (RAF’s) fleet of Boeing P-8 Poseidon aircraft for external damage.

Tender documents published in late March show that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has awarded a more than £249,000 ($313,000), two-year contract for an “automated aircraft inspection capability” to Toulouse-based Donecle under Project ASurvey Phase 2.

RAF P8-c-Crown Copyright

Source: Crown Copyright

Automated inspections will be used to build up picture of each individual aircraft

Donecle, which claims its drone-based technology can inspect an entire narrowbody aircraft within 1h, was the recipient of an £84,000 contract when Project ASurvey was launched in 2022.

The MoD says the capability will enable “fast, accurate and detailed damage mapping of external airframe damage” to the 737NG-based P-8s.

To be performed at the P-8’s base at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland, the ministry describes the initiative as a “proof of concept”.

It says that as the P-8 – locally designated the Poseidon MRA1 – has only recently entered RAF service, the maintenance organisation will be able to “establish a detailed baseline of the aircraft external condition and maintain a comprehensive history of damage to individual tail numbers”.

The data produced for each individual aircraft will also allow the service to identify “common and unusual trends” in the fleet’s overall maintenance requirements.

Donecle has previously been awarded a contract to conduct automated inspections of Dassault Aviation Rafale fighters for the French air force.

The RAF’s lead P-8 was delivered in late 2019, with the last of nine aircraft arriving in 2023.

When it announced the initial phase of Project ASurvey in 2022, the service said the capability could also be extended to the Airbus Defence & Space A400M and aircraft within the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.