Aurora Flight Sciences is displaying its Diamond DA42 optionally piloted aircraft (OPA) on the Diamond Aircraft stand here (OE18). The low-cost intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) solution is compatible with NATO standards, and “combines the best of manned and unmanned surveillance aircraft capabilities,” said U.S.-based Aurora.
Called the Centaur, the OPA can be self-deployed, as its ground control equipment fits in the aircraft’s cargo compartment. Conversion from manned to unmanned-configuration takes two crewmembers less than four hours.
The Centaur OPA is capable of fully autonomous operation, including waypoint navigation, with control via a Ku-band satellite datalink. A video link is beamed to a C2 station or Rover vehicle.
Control when unmanned is via the existing Aurora system, which has been shown to be reliable, with high levels of redundancy in line-of-sight (LOS) and beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) operations. The company points out that the aircraft is “an excellent solution for clandestine operations” as it “blends in visually into the general aviation landscape to a casual observer.”
Unmanned, the aircraft can fly for 24 hours with a 200-pound payload (or less time with up to 800-pound payload) and a range in excess of 2,000 nm. Top speed is 175 knots with a normal operating speed range of 135 to 160 knots. Service ceiling is 18,000 feet manned or, if unmanned, the aircraft can operate at anything up to 27,500 feet.
The Centaur OPA is a result of the strategic alliance with AAI Unmanned Aircraft Systems, an arm of Textron Systems, that Aurora announced in October last year. The aim was to integrate AAI’s universal ground control station with the Centaur OPA, “potentially creating commonality between Centaur and U.S. Army unmanned aircraft.”
The Austrian-built DA42 aircraft, which forms the basis of the Centaur, has many advantages for military and other buyers, such as low noise, low IR-signature, fuel-efficiency, and good performance. As the Centaur multi-purpose platform it already had a detachable nose-pod capability, belly-pod capability and pre-installed wing conduits with sensor-payload hardpoints.