Eurocopter performed a demonstration flight today with an “optionally piloted vehicle” (OPV) version of the EC145 light twin helicopter, aiming eventually at unmanned operations such as automated surveillance and cargo with any of its models. Secret flight-testing began early this month at an air force base in Istres, France.
Today’s public demonstration started with uploading a four-dimensional flight plan and an automatic takeoff. The EC145 then flew the traffic pattern via multiple waypoints. It performed a mid-route hover to deploy a load from the external sling. The ground station controller provided flight control inputs to orient the EC145 over the drop point and then released the load. The return route segment represented “a typical observation mission,” followed by an automatic landing.
According to Eurocopter, the demonstrator is a testbed EC145 with an enhanced dual-duplex four-axis autopilot and “the latest navigation systems.” In addition, the helicopter is fitted with a “plug-in” OPV avionics rack behind the pilot seats. The system included a failsafe feature–an automatic hover-to-land capability in case of major degradation.