Paris Air Show

Rheinmetall Brings UAV Expertise To EADS

 - June 17, 2013, 3:40 AM
Rheinmetall Airborne Systems operates a small fleet of IAI Heron 1 UAVs over Afghanistan for the German air force.

Although German UAV specialists Rheinmetall Airborne Systems (RAS) is now 51-percent owned by EADS, the Bremen-based outfit is retaining its own identity and continues to build upon expertise gained in operating two UAV systems for the German armed forces. It has developed a lightweight, low-cost tactical UAV and is proposing an innovative larger design that is hybrid in both airframe and power.

The company’s 2010 turnkey contract to operate several IAI Heron 1 UAVs in Afghanistan for the German air force was extended for two more years in 2012. The system for imagery reconnaissance deep in the area of operations (German acronym: SAATEG) “has proven to be extremely reliable and high performance,” according to RAS. Based in Mazar-e-Sharif, the system has logged more than 10,000 flight hours.

Meanwhile, the company’s rocket-launched KZO (German acronym for “a small aircraft used for target acquisition”) continues to serve in the German army, including in Afghanistan. The stub-winged UAV flies for four hours and lands with a parachute. Its forward-looking infrared sensor is now being supplemented by an electro-optical camera.

“Because KZO can operate in winds of up to 42 knots, it has sometimes been the only UAV operating over Afghanistan,” a RAS spokesman told AIN.

The TR50, a simple and robust UAV, can take off from a catapult or the roof of a vehicle, and lands on a skid. It weighs only 50 kilograms–hence the designation–yet can fly for more than 10 hours with a 10-kilogram payload. Up to three stabilized sensors can be carried simultaneously, for example, infrared, electro-optic and laser. Two prototypes have been built and flown. “Thanks to EADS ownership, we can develop TR50 further,” said the spokesman.

The TU-150 is a strange-looking, fixed-wing/VTOL hybrid UAV, which was designed by Swiss UAV, maker of the Skeldar helicopter UAS. Swiss UAV sought a fixed-wing partner for its development. Electric motors drive the TU-150’s wingtip rotors and power is delivered through the rear-mounted turbine, allowing the elimination of complex gearboxes.

According to RAS, the result is a high-performance system with a small logistics footprint. The TU-150 weights 150 kg (330 lbs) and could fly for up to eight hours at 220 kph (135 mph) on internal fuel (kerosene or heavy fuel). The model on display at last year’s ILA Berlin Air Show carried a large sensor ball beneath the fuselage and two smaller ones at the wingtips.

But RAS is mindful that regulatory authorities have been slow to agree on the certification standards and other regulations that would allow UAS to fly freely in non-segregated airspace. It is therefore also offering the Opale, an optionally piloted conversion of the Diamond DA42 light, piston-twin aircraft.

Equipped with a quad-redundant, fly-by-wire system, the Opale offers a 200-kilogram payload and can fly for up to 15 hours. Operation of the landing gear and flaps is currently being automated so that, when in unmanned mode, the Opale can do automatic takeoffs and landings.