Neuron Completes Maiden Flight

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Europe's stealthy nEUROn unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) completed its maiden flight Dec. 1 from the Istres test center in southern France, marking a major milestone for the technology demonstration project and paving the way for flight test campaigns in Italy, Sweden and France.

Led by the French defense armaments agency DGA and Dassault Aviation, nEUROn's objective is to demonstrate both the airworthiness of a stealthy combat air vehicle and the ability to develop, build and flight-test the UCAV in a relatively limited €400-million ($500-million) budget working across six countries with multiple industrial partners.

Launched by DGA in 2006, nEUROn involves the governments of France, Italy, Sweden, Spain, Greece and Switzerland. In addition to prime contractor Dassault, the program pools the skills and know-how of Alenia Aermacchi, Saab, EADS-CASA, Helenic Aerospace Industry, Ruag and Thales.

Powered by a Rolls-Royce Turbomeca Adour engine, the 10-meter-long nEUROn features a wingspan of 12.5 meters and a dry mass of 5,000 kg. The project is designed to address a number of technological challenges, including the aircraft's capacity to carry and deliver weapons from an internal bay. Today, European aircraft are designed with external loading capabilities for bombs and missiles.

Other technological objectives include development of the air vehicle and its innovative composite structure, demonstration of low-observability technologies, use of high-level algorithms for automated processes and
testing the human factor within the mission loop.

“Through these demonstration missions, the goals are to validate technologies around command and control of an unmanned air vehicle of a size similar to a combat aircraft, with all back-up modes insuring necessary safety and security,” Dassault said in a Dec. 1 statement.

The vehicle will continue flight tests in France before moving to operational trials in Sweden in 2014. Additional weapons firing and stealth capability assessments will take place at the Perdadesfogu range in Italy.

In addition to technology development, nEUROn is designed to demonstrate a leaner decision-making process that aims to eliminate the complexities that have plagued other international collaborations, such as the Eurofighter
Typhoon, where decision-making has been complicated by the large number of companies and government procurement agencies involved.  For nEUROn, Dassault coordinates industrial interests and interacts with DGA as the lead armaments agency, which coordinates the governments' collective position.

Dassault's work on nEUROn includes responsibility for integration and the flight control system. Italy's Alenia is producing the “smart” internal weapons bay with an electro-optical/infrared sensor and Saab of Sweden has
built the central and forward fuselage and is working on other components.

EADS-CASA of Spain built the wings and is involved with data-link integration and the ground station, while Hellenic Aerospace Industry is working on the rear fuselage and exhaust duct and Ruag is developing the weapon interface linking the aircraft system to the armaments.

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