Europe's Dassault-led Neuron unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) demonstrator will make its first flight around mid-year, having been officially unveiled for partner nations France, Greece, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland on 19 January.

Final assembly activities on the programme's lone aircraft were completed recently at Istres air base in southern France, and the platform has already undergone ground tests on its electrical, fuel and hydraulic systems, Dassault said. "The first engine tests will be performed very soon, aiming at a first flight in mid-2012," it added.

 Neuron on ramp - Dassault

© Dassault

Developed under a technology demonstration effort led by the French defence ministry since its launch in 2003, the Neuron is intended to prove Europe's collaborative ability to develop a next-generation unmanned combat aircraft. Dassault's industrial team includes Alenia Aermacchi, EADS Casa, Hellenic Aerospace Industries, Ruag and Saab.

A two-year programme of flight-test activities involving the design will start from Istres, with later sorties also to be carried out in Italy and Sweden. The work will culminate in dropping precision-guided bombs from the UCAV's internal weapons bays using a targeting and delivery system developed by Alenia. The Italian company said it had already begun manufacturing work on low observable technologies for the air vehicle.

 Neuron with bomb - Dassault

© Dassault

Speaking at an unveiling ceremony at Istres, Dassault chief executive Charles Edelstenne urged the programme's partner nations to begin discussing a possible follow-on project for a production system. Europe's emerging UCAV sector remains fragmented, with a separate co-operation agreement between Dassault and the UK's BAE Systems to potentially compete with Alenia and EADS for future orders.

BAE also expects to perform the first flight of the UK's Taranis UCAV technology demonstrator later this year.

Source: Flight International