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Airbus Helicopters’ VSR700 Prototype Performs Its First Autonomous Free Flight

Issue 100

Airbus Helicopters issued a press release on July 28, 2020, stating that the VSR700 unmanned aerial system (UAS) prototype has performed its first autonomous free flight. Lasting for ten minutes, the flight took place at a drone test center near Aix-en-Provence in the south of France and represents a significant advance from its maiden flight, during which the UAS was tethered to comply with regulatory requirements.

Derived from Hélicoptères Guimbal's Cabri G2, the VSR700 is an unmanned aerial system in the 500-1000 kg maximum take-off weight range. The system is designed to fulfill the demanding requirements of global navies and those of armies in the 21st century's contested and highly agile battlefields and seas. VSR700's performance enables it to carry full-size, high capability naval sensors equal in quality to those carried by naval helicopters, with the ability to target contacts if needed or survey them for extended periods. It can operate from existing ships with a low logistical footprint while providing multiple options for its assets (i.e., ASW helicopter plus several VSR700s) stationed onboard frigates and destroyers.

The VSR700 can carry and positioning anti-submarine warfare (ASW) barrier to complement a ship's ASW activity or that of a helicopter with Manned Unmanned Teaming (MUMT). Sonobuoy data can be relayed through the UAS to ensure an unbroken data stream, no matter what the system is doing. The VSR700 can also conduct radar and electro-optical identification of periscopes using its long-range onboard sensors, providing a formidable deterrence capability when coupled with its low noise signature and a high degree of persistence.

Moreover, in maritime security missions, the VSR700 brings to ships a significant advantage in missions such as anti-terrorism, anti-pollution, counter-smuggling, fishery protection, monitoring, and assisting refugees or illegal immigrants, coastal watch and more.  The VSR700 can carry high-performance, long-range sensors that remain undetected while monitoring events and providing high-quality data to authorities. The program also implements a geofencing function and a Flight Termination System, allowing the mission to be ended if necessary.

Airbus Helicopters states that the free flight achieved by the VSR700 is a major step leading up to the sea trials that will be performed at the end of 2021 as part of the de-risking studies for the French Navy's future drone. Thanks to the French PlanAero, the program will make full use of two demonstrators and an optionally piloted vehicle to develop and mature the technical and operational aspects for successful UAS operations in a maritime environment.