A demonstrator version of Airbus Helicopters’ VSR700 has begun autonomous flight trials, some eight months after work began on the optionally piloted vehicle.
The OPV is derived from the Hélicoptères Guimbal Cabri G2 rotorcraft, and a first flight of a prototype example is expected to follow in 2018.
The current phase of trials will include a safety pilot remaining on board the aircraft, and will see the company refine the flight control system, with the ultimate aim of fully autonomous flight. The flight control system is a fully digital, multi-channel system, Airbus says, with high levels of redundancy.
The manned Cabri G2 has carried out sea trials recently, the company adds, supported by a French navy air defence frigate. This assessed the flight envelope of the OPV for ship-based operations.
The VSR700 will have a maximum payload capacity of some 250kg, with an endurance of 10h. While initially being developed for naval applications, Airbus notes that it could be operated from land to carry out surveillance missions using the optical sensors and maritime/land radar.
When the programme was launched, Airbus and partner DCNS said it was pitching the OPV for the French navy’s Système de Drones Aériens de la Marine (SDAM) programme, with military certification planned for 2019. The selected system is expected to replace the Schiebel Camcopter that has been in service in France since 2012.