Falco Xplorer completes first flight

Leonardo’s Falco Xplorer unmanned aerial system (UAS) – the largest the company has ever built – has successfully completed its first flight.

The flight took place at Trapani air base, Italy, on January 15 and saw the aircraft – serial 0001 – depart, cruise over the Gulf of Trapani in a dedicated fly zone for roughly an hour before landing safely back at base. The Italian Air Force’s test flight centre provided technical and engineering support for the flight.

Leonardo unveiled the Falco Xplorer at the Paris Air Show last June. It is marketed for use by military and civil customers and has been designed to offer persistent multi-sensor strategic surveillance as either an integrated system or a fully managed information-superiority service, operated by Leonardo.

Falco Xplorer [Leonardo]
The Falco Xplorer during its first flight. Leonardo via Twitter

The company states that the Xplorer “combines endurance of over 24 [hours] with a maximum payload of 350kg [add lb conversion here]”, adding that the platform has a “maximum take-off weight of 1.3 tonnes and an operating ceiling above 24,000ft [7,315m]” and that it is an affordable, potent solution for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) operations.

The Xplorer is the latest member of Leonardo’s Falco family, in use with the European border and coastguard agency Frontex, and the United Nations. Leonardo states that it designed the Xplorer using feedback from the operators of other Falco family variants. From this, Leonardo has integrated an array of sensor suites, including its Gabbiano T-80 multi-mode surveillance radar, SAGE electronic support measures/electronic intelligence (ELINT) system, an electro-optical (EO) turret and an automatic identification system for maritime operations. The company also provides a hyperspectral sensor for optional integration, which can be employed to monitor pollution or agricultural development. The Xplorer is designed using open-system architecture, allowing for the quick and easy integration of additional third-party sensors. The UAS can be operated in beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) operations with its inbuilt satellite link capability.

After successfully passing this major development milestone, Leonardo will now start a series of flight campaigns to assess the Xplorer’s capabilities, including its onboard sensor systems. This will also see the UAS certified according to NATO Standardized Agreement (STANAG) 4671 – the airworthiness certificate which enables unmanned military aircraft to operate within the airspace of other NATO member states.