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Spanish team reaches UAV autonomy milestone

A bid to make Spain’s Andalusia region a leading aerospace technology power has reached a noteworthy milestone with the flight of a 45kg unmanned aircraft to 11nm (20km) beyond visual range, in segregated airspace.

Previous beyond-line-of-sight flights from theATLAS (Air Traffic Laboratory for Advanced unmanned Systems)UAV facility, situated among seemingly endless olive groves in this southwestern region of Spain, had not featured aircraft heavier than 25kg. The 14-15 January tests of UAV Navigation’s 45kg machine were carried out with a special certificate of airworthiness and under the direction of Seville air traffic control.

ATLAS is a dedicated facility sitting within 100,000ha (250,000 acres) and boasting a 5,000ft (1,520m) ceiling, near the village of Villacarillo in Jaén county. Apart from being located far from any major airport, Villacarillo is an attractive location for UAV development as local weather allows some 300 days’ operation yearly.

Opened in March 2014, it is closely allied to the Seville-based aerospace technology development laboratories centre CATEC, which has been established for four years now at the Aerópolis aerospace industrial park, adjacent toAirbusDefence & Space’sA400Mfinal assembly line.

As an indication of how seriously Andalusia is targeting aerospace, ATLAS’s launch budget was €4 million ($5.5 million), including €3.5 million of partly EU funds channelled through the Andalusian government and another €500,000 fromMadrid.

According to the Andalusian government, aerospace accounts for a turnover of €1.8 billion in the region and 11,300 direct jobs, making up 1.28% of the regional economy and 17% of its industrial GDP.

Ultimately, ATLAS will feature an 800m (2,600ft) runway, allowing the operation of any UAS up to about 12m wingspan and 600-700kg maximum take-off weight – big enough for any civil UAS operating in Europe today and all but the biggest military systems.

Madrid-based UAV Navigation has been developing autopilots since 2004. The system tested recently at ATLAS features a stabilised day/night camera and parachute, and can cruise at 70 knots (130km/h) with a ceiling of 11,500ft and range of 220nm. Its customer is the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO).

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