Evergreen International has stepped up efforts to launch commercial unmanned air vehicle services and is in talks with manufacturers on the phased development of a fleet of privately owned aircraft to meet emerging civil and military applications.

Evergreen has approached Northrop Grumman and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems to discuss its plans for developing the UAV services market. Its initial fleet will comprise three Bell HV-911 Eagle Eye tiltrotors signed for by Evergreen around two years ago, and due for delivery after 2007.

Tim Wahlberg, president of Evergreen International Aviation and chairman of Evergreen Helicopters, says the services concept began in parallel with the Eagle Eye order. “We are going after it now, building up over time,” says Wahlberg.

An early application under study is using the Eagle Eyes equipped with infrared payloads, to provide precision identification of fire-fronts for Evergreen’s Boeing 747 large air tanker. The UAVs would potentially be controlled from onboard the 747.

The full UAV fleet would be developed along “family” lines, with this including sharing common command, control and communication systems, as well as support infrastructure.

Other service options being examined include commercial surveillance and protection services for infrastructure, maritime, border patrol, peacekeeping support, military convoys and possibly treaty verification missions.

Longer-term options may include commercial freight services using UAVs. Evergreen says: “UAVs are the next step for us and if that means integrating them into our air cargo work I’m sure that will happen.”

Evergreen plans further talks with UAV manufacturers.

Source: Flight International