Airbus Helicopters and the French Armament General Directorate (DGA) have achieved a significant milestone in unmanned aerial systems (UAS) with the successful test of the VSR700 UAV’s operational capabilities from a ship at sea. This groundbreaking test signifies a crucial step forward in the development of autonomous take-off and landing technologies for maritime operations.
Taking place off the coast of Brittany in western France, the test campaign saw the Airbus VSR700 perform 80 fully autonomous take-offs and landings from a civil vessel equipped with a helicopter deck. This allowed the team to assess the drone’s performance under operational conditions that closely resembled its future missions.
The test campaign played a vital role in validating the drone’s real-world capabilities. The VSR700 prototype showcased its prowess by pushing its flight envelope in winds surpassing 40 knots, accumulating eight hours of testing across 14 flights, and successfully landing in various sea states.
Initially tested in 2022 using an optionally piloted vehicle (OPV) based on a modified Guimbal Cabri G2 helicopter, the VSR700’s autonomous take-off and landing capabilities were fully validated. This success confirmed the system’s readiness for maritime operations.
An essential component enabling the VSR700’s autonomous take-off and landing is the Airbus DeckFinder system. This advanced system ensures precise launch and recovery of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), even in challenging operational and environmental conditions. The DeckFinder system ensures the UAV’s autonomy, independent of GNSS/GPS signals and regardless of degraded visual conditions.
Before the ship-based test campaign, Airbus Helicopters and the DGA conducted two series of trials in late 2022 and early 2023. These trials thoroughly assessed the VSR700’s performance and capabilities in a maritime environment, including the testing of its handling qualities and sensor capabilities such as maritime surveillance radar, electro-optical sensor, and AIS receiver. The trials also evaluated the mission system developed by Naval Group.
Looking ahead, the development of the VSR700 continues with the upcoming maiden flight of the second prototype. Subsequently, the UAV will undergo flight testing onboard a French Navy FREMM vessel in the second semester of this year. These significant steps aim to further refine the VSR700’s operational capabilities and facilitate its integration into naval operations.
The collaboration between Airbus Helicopters and the French Armament General Directorate showcases their dedication to advancing unmanned aerial systems and revolutionizing maritime operations. The VSR700’s demonstrated autonomous take-off and landing capabilities, coupled with its outstanding performance in challenging environmental conditions, make it highly suitable for various mission scenarios such as maritime surveillance, search and rescue operations, and logistical support. With further development and integration, the VSR700 promises to enhance operational efficiency, safety, and versatility in maritime environments, opening up new possibilities for unmanned systems in defense and beyond.