An industry team has conducted the first flight of a new unmanned air vehicle technology demonstrator that builds on 25 years of flight control research conducted by Cranfield Aerospace.

Pictured here for the first time, the Mino is an advanced version of the Cranfield-developed Observer UAV, which completed a series of proving flights in late 2001. The new air vehicle has a wingspan of 1.4m (4.5ft) and a weight of less than 11kg (24lb) - a major reduction in size and mass from the larger Observer drone.

The 3min flight conducted at the British Army's Larkhill test range in the UK on 29 January demonstrated the air vehicle's gust insensitive technology, which enables its payload of two-axis cameras to provide stable imagery by controlling aircraft attitude. A unique navigation algorithm also enables the Mino's operator to continually observe a target by maintaining uninterrupted sensor coverage.

The test programme is being headed by Qinetiq under contract to the UK Ministry of Defence.

The fully autonomous aircraft, which is launched by catapult and recovered by a parachute and airbag, is tasked via a touchscreen-equipped ground control station developed by Qinetiq for the Observer drone. Initial flight trials of the Mino are expected to last around three months.

The Mino's flight control software and hardware is also to be used in a dynamically scaled model of Boeing's blended wing body (BWB) concept, which the company is now eyeing solely for military roles, such as inflight refuelling and long-range strike applications.

Cranfield Aerospace is under contract to manufacture and fly two BWB demonstrators, with the initial flight planned in late 2005 or during 2006. Each 8.5%-scale model will have a 6.6m wingspan, two 100lb-thrust (0.45kN) turbine engines, a maximum take-off weight of 180kg and a flight endurance of 30min. To be conducted in the USA, the test flights will be used to collect stability and operational data, says Cranfield.

Military interest in the BWB project is reported to have grown in the USA over the past 12 months, reflecting its confirmation as a defence project within Boeing's Phantom Works research unit.

Source: Flight International