VSR700 prototype takes flight in France

Airbus Helicopters' VSR700 unmanned aerial system (UAS) successfully completed its first flight on November 8.

The flight occurred at a drone test centre in Aix-en-Provence in the south of France, during which the VSR700 made several take-offs and landings. The longest flight lasted roughly ten minutes.

The vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) UAS was attached with 30m cables to ensure it stayed within the flight test zone, in accordance with the airworthiness authority which provided the VSR700's flight clearance. Going forward, the flight test programme will expand to allow free flight and to begin increasing the aircraft's flight envelope.

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The VSR700 during its first flight. Airbus

The VSR700 platform derives from Hélicoptères Guimbal’s Cabri G2 a manned twin-seat light helicopter. The UAS derivative boasts a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of between 500-1,000kg, with the company adding that the VSR700 ''offers the best balance of payload capability, endurance and operational cost". Targeted for military operations, the platform is capable of being equipped with multiple full-sized naval sensors for extended periods of time and, with a low logistical footprint, it has the ability to smoothly operate on existing ships alongside other naval helicopters. With a projected top speed of 115kts (132mph), the company suggests the VSR700 could have a ten-hour operational mission endurance with a payload of 100kg.

Bruno Even, CEO of Airbus Helicopters, said: “The VSR700 is a fully-fledged unmanned aerial system, capitalising on Airbus Helicopters’ extensive experience of advanced autopilot systems and engineering expertise to provide modern militaries with new capabilities.”

“This first flight of the VSR700 prototype is a major milestone for the programme as we make progress on the operational demonstrator for the French Navy that will perform trials in 2021 in partnership with Naval Group,” he added.

In 2017, an optionally piloted version of the VSR700 first flew  again based on the Cabri G2. The fully unmanned version includes a payload bay in place of the pilot, which is designed to manage mission equipment, along with saving weight and providing a "sleeker, more aerodynamic shape to improve flight performance". The UAS also features specialised avionics and advanced flight control systems.

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The VSR700 on display at the Paris Airshow 2019, alongside MBDA's Brimstone and MMP missiles. Khalem Chapman

Airbus Helicopters states that the VSR700 is designed solely for naval forces and will be able to perform a variety of roles, such as intelligence, surveillance, targeting and reconnaissance (ISTAR), search and rescue (SAR), anti-submarine/anti-surface warfare (ASW/ASuW) and maritime security.

A number of systems will be integrated onto the VSR700, including: Airbus DeckFinder auto-landing system for VTOL UAS for use in ship deck operations; Safran's long-range, high-performance Euroflir MSP410 SP multi-sensor; Sentient's ViDAR wide-area optical maritime search system; and Rafael's Minipod electro-optical system (providing long-range surveillance in very high resolution). 

MBDA is equipping the platform with Brimstone high-precision, all-weather, fire and forget missiles. It will also integrate its MMP fifth-generation combat missile onto the VSR700. Thales is providing an active electronically scanned array (AESA) flat-panel surveillance radar, along with the aircraft's ASW payload, which includes an active sonobuoy launch system. Survitec is to equip the VSR700 with its RFD SAR raft, which, when deployed, has a capacity of 18 people.