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UAV technology shines at Farnborough

Aug. 17, 2012, Farnborough, U.K. - Despite headline-grabbing airline orders, small aircraft continued to attract attention at the Farnborough Airshow 2012. Liam Stoker reports on the small aircraft, UAVs and emerging technology demonstrated at the industry event.


August 17, 2012
By aerospace-technology.com

Although their larger counterparts might cast a shadow over them,
small aircraft and UAVs have proven themselves to have a place at the
Farnborough Airshow. Headlines will undoubtedly be dominated by airlines
at such an event, but technology demonstrated at Farnborough leaves
little doubt that small aircraft play a major role in the aerospace
sector.

 

In some cases, the technologies demonstrated on smaller
aircraft have the potential to make significant impacts on larger
aircraft in the future. The ASTRAEA programme, comprising of seven
leading aerospace and technology manufacturers, promises to do just
that.

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One of the more intriguing developments to be unveiled at the show
was that of the Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne
Evaluation and Assessment (ASTRAEA) programme, a UK industry-led
programme that has been established to further the development of
technologies, systems, facilities, procedures and regulations relating
to the operation of unmanned aerial vehicles within civil airspace.

One
of the main directives of the programme, which is led by a consortium
comprising of AOS, BAE Systems, Cassidian, Cobham, QinetiQ, Rolls-Royce
and Thales, has been to enable unmanned flight in larger aircraft. BAE
used Farnborough as a platform to showcase its latest project; a
modified Jetstream 31 aircraft, retrofitted with technologies developed
under the programme.

 

The system uses cameras located around the
aircraft to enable it to perform emergency landings and avoid weather
conditions that may influence the aircraft's performance. The Sense and
Avoid technology developed under the ASTRAEA programme also enables the
aircraft to locate, identify and avoid other aircraft in the area, and
BAE hopes that when the technology matures, it could be used in search
and rescue missions, as well as on freight aircraft.

 

Lambert
Dopping-Hopenstal, ASTRAEA programme director, speaking at a press
briefing at the event, said: "I think it is the dawn of a new era in
aviation. It's opening up a new market, in general it's opening up for
us to be able to do things that we haven't been able to do before."

 

Dopping-Hopenstal
did, however, move to allay fears for the future prospects of
international pilots, stating: "We're not talking about unmanned
passenger aircraft. You're not going to be going on your holidays
without a pilot." BAE now hope to advance the programme by conducting a
series of world test flights with the system.

 

Following the lead of UK politicians and aerospace dignitaries, Sir
Richard Branson descended upon Farnborough on the fourth day of the
airshow to unveil news relating to the eagerly anticipated launch of
Virgin Galactic operations.

Branson
used the show to announce that, prior to a planned launch of operations
in December 2013, the company had begun accepting deposits from
prospective space tourists, with actor Ashton Kutcher vying to be a
passenger on the inaugural suborbital flight. Branson also revealed
that, to date, 529 people had placed down a deposit for such a flight,
exceeding the total number of people that have visited space in human
history.

 

Branson also took the opportunity to unveil plans to
construct a low-cost satellite launch vehicle, dubbed LauncherOne,
enabling a wider array of institutions to launch satellites into orbit.
The two-stage rocket will be launched from the WhiteKnightTwo mothership
and be capable of carrying a payload of up to 500lbs at a cost of less
than $10m, substantially cheaper than current launch costs.

 

Commenting
on the initiative, Branson said: "LauncherOne is bringing the price of
satellite launch into the realm of affordability for innovators
everywhere, from start-ups and schools to established companies and
national space agencies. It will be critical new tool for the global
research community, enabling us all to learn about our home planet more
quickly and affordably."

 

Four companies have already made
commitments to the programme, with the Telegraph reporting that asteroid
mining company Planetary Resources is among those who have placed
deposits.

 

On a much smaller and humbler scale when compared to SpaceShipTwo,
Denmark-based aerospace company Sky-Watch was quick to demonstrate its
Huginn X1 quadrotor UAV. Weighing in at just 1.4kg, the UAV possesses
more technology than you would think for a small, lightweight machine.

 

The
X1's flight control system keeps the vehicle stable in sustained winds
of up to 23 knots, while the sensor suite installed on the system
includes sonar technology to avoid collisions and assist in safe take
off and landing. Capable of performing automatic take-offs and landings,
the Huginn X1 also includes a high precision Global Positioning System.

 

The
small UAV can be transported in the back of a car and deployed in less
than a minute, with Sky-Watch pitching the vehicle as ideal for use in
both law enforcement and defence operations. Sky-Watch expects to
receive safety certification for the X1 within the next few months.

 

One eagerly anticipated announcement that could not be arranged in
time to take place at Farnborough 2012 was that of concrete plans for an
Anglo-French UCAV partnership.

HIS
Jane's reported that an announcement had been scheduled to be made on
10 July, but administrative delays related to Francois Hollande's
election victory forced a postponement.

 

Work between BAE Systems,
the UK Ministry of Defence, Dassault Aviation and the French DGA has
been ongoing, and BAE had been confident of announcing a partnership at
the show.

 

The work is likely to see knowledge and expertise
related to BAE's Taranis and Dassault's Neuron UCAVs combined, with a
Future Combat Air System forming an integral element of Anglo-French
collaboration on military projects, which has become a post-austerity
priority.