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07 Sep 23. Aircraft drone makes history landing on Royal Navy carrier at sea.
- Pilotless aircraft makes history landing on HMS Prince of Wales off Cornish coast
- First-ever landing on a UK aircraft carrier by a winged, crewless plane – developed by a Southampton-based firm
- Trials pave the way for ultimately replacing traditional helicopters performing routine duties such as moving supplies around a task group
A pilotless plane has flown on and off a Royal Navy aircraft carrier for the first time.
The W Autonomous Systems (WAS) drone flew from the Lizard Peninsula and on to the deck of HMS Prince of Wales off the Cornish coast, delivered supplies, then flew back in a milestone flight which points the way to the future of naval aviation.
It’s a vital step along the way to operating crewless aircraft safely alongside F-35 Lightning jets and naval Merlin and Wildcat helicopters which are currently the backbone of the Fleet Air Arm.
The goal is to deploy drones with a UK Carrier Strike Group in the future, using them to transfer stores and supplies – such as mail or spare parts – between ships, without the need to launch helicopters.
Drones are cheaper to operate, eliminate any potential risk to aircrew – such as in bad weather – and keep the hi-tech Merlins and Wildcats free for operational sorties, such as hunting hostile submarines or surface vessels which are threats to the carrier strike group.
HMS Prince of Wales has experimented with drone technology before – notably small quadcopters and Banshee targets (small jets which are launched by catapult and parachutes down to land when the mission is complete).
But the trials off the Lizard are in a different league, involving a much larger (ten-metre wingspan), more capable pilotless aircraft.
The Royal Navy joined forces with Southampton-based W Autonomous Systems, a leading-edge British firm which is developing long-range, heavy-lift autonomous drones for defence.
The drones incorporate a ground-breaking autopilot system, eliminating the need to be controlled remotely by trained pilots, and are designed to operate in the most challenging environments.
Its HCMC twin-engine light alloy twin boom aircraft is capable of carrying a payload of 100kg up to 1,000 kilometres (620 miles). Crucially it can land on uneven ground and needs a runway just 150 metres long – a little over half the length of the flight decks on the UK’s Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers – to land or take off.
After extensive preparations ashore by the combined RN and WAS trials team, and attaining endorsements and authorisations from the Civil Aviation Authority, the HCMC drone took off from Predannack, the satellite airfield of RNAS Culdrose, and after a flight of about 20 minutes, touched down safely on the HMS Prince of Wales’ deck.
Once its symbolic payload of naval memorabilia was removed by crew, the aircraft was turned around and it was re-launched back to Predannack.
Captain Richard Hewitt, Commanding Officer HMS Prince of Wales said: “HMS Prince of Wales is a fifth-generation aircraft carrier and operating autonomous drones like this will become the norm across future Royal Navy Carrier Strike Groups in our 50-year lifespan. We are all proud here in HMS Prince of Wales to achieve this – a fantastic milestone for all involved and the first of many firsts on this deployment to shape the future of Royal Naval Carrier Strike innovation as we prepare for our strike group deployment in 2025.”
Lieutenant Ash Loftus, leading the trials for the Royal Navy on board HMS Prince of Wales added: “Today’s demonstration is the culmination of 18 months of hard work from dozens of people across the Royal Navy and W Autonomous Systems. Carrier aviation is amongst the most difficult aspects of naval warfare and this success is testament to their efforts.”
Stephen Wright, executive chairman and founder of W Autonomous Systems, said: “This landing demonstrates the agility of our autonomous drone. We are hugely proud to deliver this ground-breaking trial for the Royal Navy and showcase the future of aviation.”
Charles Scales, Co-Founder of W Autonomous Systems, added: “Landing on a moving naval carrier was the ultimate test and our autonomous heavy-lift HCMC drone passed with flying colours.”
The trials off Cornwall were the first stage of an autumn programme pushing the boundaries of naval aviation for Britain’s biggest warship.
HMS Prince of Wales will be operating off the Eastern Seaboard of the USA until Christmas as she conducts experiments with F-35 Lightning stealth fighters, MV-Osprey tilt-rotors, and the Mojave drone.
31 Aug 23. DORAI publishes first requirements for drone operators, invites industry input. The Drone Operator Requirements Aero Initiative (DORAI) has published the first requirements to support and help drone manufacturers focus their development efforts. These requirements are the result of a half year intensive collaboration and alignment effort done by drone operators on a pan-European level, representing France, Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium, Greece and Switzerland.
The requirements cover both hardware development (incl. packaging sizes, payload handling automation) as well as software development (incl. interfaces towards operator BVLOS Ground Control, enabling U-Space operator responsibilities).
The DORAI members request their technology suppliers to use the DORAI minimum requirements in their drone platform developments going forward.
All drone related actors are invited to provide input that can be included in additional future (periodic) requirement publications. DORAI targets the next publication for 1 February 2024. DORAI is furthermore open to operators who wish to collaborate on industry requirements. Any operator can join DORAI if they subscribe to a modular drone industry setup and do themselves not manufacture drones.
This effort runs in parallel to the European SESAR SAFIR-Ready, SAFIR-Med projects where the 34 partners and advisory members adhere to the same requirements to support EU legislation and U-Space.
DORAI created in 2022 with the objective to ensure efficient and effective technology development for the unmanned aviation sector. Drone operators align on use case-based requirements to provide economically viable and robust services.
DORAI forms a platform for drone operators to align and communicate their requirements towards drone Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and unmanned aviation related technological providers. DORAI statements provide a clear, publicly referenceable basis for future development. These statements give guidelines for drone design choices towards a viable, scalable and modular drone eco-system. For more information visit: www.anwb-maa.nl; www.helicus.com; 0www.tcs.ch (Source: www.unmannedairspace.info)
01 Sep 23. Australia issues new regulation applicable to operating drones at night. The Civil Aviation Authority of Australia (CASA) has introduced a new regulation applicable to remotely piloted aerial systems (RPAS) flying at night.
The legislation requires the operator to “have documented practices and procedures, that are approved in writing by CASA or by a manager or team Leader of CASA with responsibility for regulatory oversight of RPA operations in relation to operating RPA at night”. Before any operation under this approval, the operator must ensure that a risk assessment is carried out by the operator’s chief remote pilot in accordance with the documented practices and procedures.
Other requirements include ensuring that the launch and landing and recovery areas are illuminated so that the position of the RPA can be established and maintained by the authorised remote pilot by visual reference, and the RPA is equipped with the appropriate nighttime signals. For more information visit: www.casa.gov.au (Source: www.unmannedairspace.info)
12 Sep 23. Drone Evolution launches SENTINEL, its new, tethered Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) system at DSEI 2023. Designed and built in the UK, SENTINEL has been teamed with Steatite’s MPU5 MESH radio, creating an airborne rebroadcasting node which provides a persistent surveillance capability for situational awareness. The SENTINEL tether system is quicker to deploy and lighter to carry than a mast option. The combination of a tethered UAV system and radio/camera/thermal imaging system is ideal for applications such as:
- Intelligence, surveillance & reconnaissance
- Force protection
- Event security
SENTINEL can be powered by Drone Evolution’s patented Freedom Power Supply Unit (PSU). This PSU can output 100V-500V from a 12V or 24V vehicle power supply, allowing SENTINEL to be mobilised and remain airborne for extended periods of time, reaching heights of 50m for 6 hours and potentially beyond. SENTINEL is the only system capable of running directly from a 12v or 24v power supply such as a vehicle or batteries (with no inverter or generator required) as well as mains power. Additionally, SENTINEL’s weatherproofing and high wind resistance allows for long endurance in challenging environments.With both SENTINEL and Dis1 radios operating at ground level, it is possible to establish a baseline range to determine the range and throughput of a Wave Relay point-to-point network in an urban environment.Toby Townrow, Communications Director at Drone Evolution, said: “Tethering a drone to a ground power source allows the system to be in the air for periods far beyond conventional battery life. SENTINEL really is a game changer, it can be deployed without advanced pilot skills and has the potential for secure communications and overcoming blackspots. Additionally, SENTINEL can take your sensors to greater heights than a standard temporary mast system can ever achieve.”Steatite’s Business Development Manager, Seb Leaver, added “The combination of Drone Evolution’s SENTINEL system and the MPU5 Radio System provides a solution to a challenge that our clients have had for a long time – namely how to get a comms rebroadcast system to a height quickly and easily for a range of deployment types at a price that doesn’t make to prohibitive.”
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