Eurocopter is to move into the unmanned air vehicle (UAV) market for the first time by forming an alliance with French manufacturer Helicopteres Guimbal, the two companies announced at Paris yesterday. The new venture will be called Vertivision, with Eurocopter taking a 51% stake.

The teaming plans to develop, industrialise, market and support a new drone, based on the twin-seat Cabri G2 helicopter, designed by Guimbal. The Cabri flew for the first time on 31 March.

Eurocopter president Fabrice Bregier put pen to paper on the agreement with his counterpart Bruno Guimbal in a ceremony at Le Bourget. And there is an immediate and potentially lucrative opportunity for Vertivision to pursue.


The French army and navy issued a request for proposals (RFP) two weeks ago, which outlined a common requirement for a drone capable of performing a range of missions under the designation 'Devil'. The dual-service requirement is for a vertical take-off and landing multi-mission drone. The number of drones required is not clear, but is expected to be less than 100 in total.

Guimbal says the UAV would be capable of performing intelligence, surveillance detection, target designation and communication relay missions among others. He also believes there are civilian applications for the technology in areas such as forest fire detection, coastal and road surveillance.

Guimbal, who spent 19 years as an engineer with Eurocopter, says the move will give the business access to Eurocopter's vast expertise in electronics and flight control systems alongside his own development experience.

"The Cabri is a piston-engined helicopter and we envisage this being the powerplant for the drone in the first instance," he explains. "We are also looking at alternative engines for future development."

The forecast weight of the aircraft will exceed 700kg (1,500lb) with a payload in excess of 150kg. It will be capable of flying at a speed of 50kt (90km/h) and remaining airborne for up to 14h.

Under the terms of the RFP, an initial contract award this year would kickstart development work and simulation. The next step would be a preliminary procurement contract with a target in-service date of 2008.

Other potential bidders for the contract are likely to include the Northrop Grumman RQ-8B Firescout.

Source: Flight Daily News