France's DGA procurement agency is funding development of an airborne communications node suitable for integration with manned aircraft, unmanned air vehicles and airships for radio relay and broadcast applications. Now around six months into its three-year demonstration phase, flight trials will take place with an EADS Socata TBM 700 turboprop in early 2005, says EADS Defence Electronics France, which is heading the project.

The flight trials will involve aircraft operations up to an altitude of 30,000ft (9,100m), although EADS says the system could be used at heights up to 60,000ft. The work does not include integration trials with France's future Eagle medium-altitude long-endurance UAV, which is viewed as a possible host platform for the system. A maximum data transfer rate of 20Mb/s will be demonstrated during the test phase, although a production-standard system will be capable of managing a throughput of 100Mb/s.

In addition to its battlefield utility and reduced cost compared with satellite-based systems, EADS says the communications node will have great utility during a crisis, where it could be fielded over an area deprived of fixed communications equipment. The company says the Malaysian government has shown strong interest in acquiring the system for use with airships.

Source: Flight International