Billed as the most advanced aircraft yet built by the UK aerospace industry, the BAE Systems Taranis UCAS demonstrator has also been one of the most elusive. Security surrounding the stealthy, unmanned combat air vehicle technology demonstrator has been extremely tight, with access strictly controlled. However, the UK government finally cleared BAE to release some details of the project this week, following the announcement on January 31 by the UK and France that cooperation on the next stage of a Future Combat Air System (FCAS) has been agreed.
At a briefing in London, the first-flight date was revealed as August 10 last year. It was performed under the command of test pilot Bob Fraser and lasted about 15 minutes. The location was not revealed, but is believed to be Woomera in South Australia, where BAE Systems has previously undertaken several unmanned flight-test campaigns. Notwithstanding the earlier flight trials and RCS measurement ground tests in France of the pan-European Neuron UCAS demonstrator, BAE Systems claims that “the UK has developed a significant lead in understanding unmanned aircraft which could strike with precision over a long range whilst remaining undetected.”
Before the Taranis was airlifted by RAF C-17 to the flight-test site, it underwent high-speed taxi tests at the main BAE facility at Warton in the UK, which went unnoticed despite being carried out in daylight. Subsequent flight-tests at Woomera during the remainder of 2013 covered several sorties at varying speeds and altitude. The longest endurance achieved was about an hour. Two further flight-test campaigns are planned, with data to be fed into the FCAS feasibility study.
Taranis, named after the Celtic god of thunder, is a £185 million joint industry/defense ministry program that is led by BAE Systems, with Rolls-Royce, GE Aviation and QinetiQ as key team members. The remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) is powered by a Rolls-Royce Turbomeca Adour 871, as used in the Hawk trainer. Photographs of Taranis in flight reveal a stealthy shape with several low-observable features, such as angled and sawtooth edges to the undercarriage-bay doors, and deep notches between the fixed and moving sections of the trailing edge. As well as trailing-edge control surfaces, Taranis also has unusually large control surfaces above and below the outer wings.