Thales UK is to conduct up to a week of flight testing of its Watchkeeper unmanned air vehicle system from the ParcAberporth centre in Wales this month, marking the first use of the medium-altitude, long-endurance Hermes 450 platform in UK airspace.

Due to enter service in 2010, Watchkeeper will replace the British Army’s BAE Systems Phoenix UAVs with an undisclosed number of WK450 airframes developed from Elbit Systems of Israel’s 450kg (990lb) Hermes 450 design. Launched on 1 September, the Watchkeeper demonstrations will culminate during an industry exhibition and flying display at the ParcAberporth site at Cardigan’s West Wales airport on 7 September. They have been made possible by a short-term temporary restricted area (TRA) agreement issued by the UK Civil Aviation Authority. Initially set at two days, the agreement was extended to a week following an industry request, says the CAA.

The agreement establishes a restriction of flight order barring aircraft from operating in airspace within an 8km (15nm) radius of the site and up to a ceiling of 5,000ft (1,500m) while an unmanned aircraft is airborne. In the event of a mishap the air vehicle must be preprogrammed to assume a holding pattern within the confines of the TRA. “This is a principle we will hold to without sense-and-avoid,” says a CAA source. However, the Hermes 450 can also use a 2,500 miles2 (6,475km2) military training range over the Irish Sea during the trials.

The Hermes 450 flight tests will support the Watchkeeper programme’s current demonstration and manufacturing phase activities, and will provide significant backing for the Welsh Development Agency-led ParcAberporth initiative. The introduction of unmanned systems into exercises and air displays is also among a list of objectives contained in a UAV roadmap to be released by the UK Royal Air Force this month.

The CAA currently requires three months’ notice to approve a UAV display to allow Department of Transport lawyers time to assess the request and to enable the agency to advise other airspace users of flight restrictions.



Source: Flight International