Geofencing Enables VSR700 Free Flight

The VSR700 has performed its first free flight.
Credit: Airbus Helicopters

Airbus Helicopters said it has completed the first tether-free flight of its VSR700 vertical takeoff and landing rotary-wing unmanned aircraft system.

Geofencing was introduced into the platform’s flight control system, enabling flight clearance from airworthiness authorities for free flight, Airbus said in a July 28 statement.

The approach will allow Airbus and partner Naval Group to open the VTOL’s flight envelope.

“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,” Airbus Helicopters CEO Bruno Even said. 

The 700-kg (1,500 lb.) VSR700 has been developed to meet the French Navy’s SDAM requirement for a rotary-wing UAS that can be operated from the back of its warships and provide an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability. 

The platform has been developed from the Guimbal Cabri G2 piston-engine light helicopter but features an extensively redesigned fuselage to accommodate a heavy-fuel engine and its associated cooling system. The engine, combined with enlarged fuel tanks, paves the way for increased endurance.

Previous unmanned flights of the VSR700 had been performed with a tether, while flight testing of the flight control system has been done on an adapted Guimbal Cabri G2 with a safety pilot onboard.

Airbus says the VSR700 prototype has evolved over the last nine months since its first flight. As well as introducing the geofencing function, engineers have added a Flight Termination System to end the flight should it be required. Structural modifications and reinforcements also have been made to the airframe.

Paris decided to accelerate the SDAM program, funding Airbus through the PlanAero aerospace industry stimulus announced in early June. This will provide for a second VSR700 demonstrator to support the development of additional technologies and to refine the specifications for French Navy needs.

Airbus says the VSR700 will provide increased surveillance for naval vessels at sea, from small corvettes to large warships. Flying the VSR700, Airbus suggests, will allow navies to preserve flying hours for their more expensive manned rotary-wing platforms.

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.