Aurora Flight Sciences is close to securing up to three customers in Europe, plus one in the U.S., for its Centaur optionally piloted aircraft (OPA), which is based on the Diamond DA42 twin-engine tourer, the company told AIN. The American company has been marketing the Centaur in the U.S. as a versatile, low-cost airborne sensing platform for two years but only recently expanded the effort to Europe.
“One potential customer requires the Centaur for a big airborne mapping task; another for the training of UAV operators; and another for airspace integration training,” a spokesman for Aurora said at the recent Farnborough airshow. He noted that the Centaur has already been employed in Europe, when the Swiss ministry of defense used one to aid its evaluation of new UAVs. That evaluation led to the selection of the Elbit Systems Hermes 900 earlier this year; the Swiss used the Centaur OPA to test payloads and evaluate sense-and-avoid systems.
The conversion of a DA42 Multi-Purpose Platform (MPP) to an OPA can be done in the field by two people in just four hours, the Aurora spokesman said. Removal of the copilot’s seat allows installation of a servo rack that “grabs the stick just as a pilot would; drives the rudders; and interfaces with the engine Fadec system and the Diamond’s electrical bus.” Two more OPA-specific boxes must be installed in the nose, and one in the rear. The autopilot and other avionics are triple-redundant, to include full INS and GPS support.
In the U.S., Aurora teamed with Textron’s AAI Unmanned Aircraft Systems to offer that company’s Universal Ground Control Station (UGCS), thereby creating commonality with some U.S. military unmanned aircraft. However, other ground control options are available, “ranging from a two-box plus two-laptop system to a 20-ton truck,” the spokesman told AIN. All the hardware and software needed to convert a DA42 MPP to an OPA complies with NATO Stanag 4586, he added. The boxes can be ferried on board the aircraft through controlled airspace by the two-man crew and installed after the aircraft arrives at the location from where unmanned operations can be mounted.
Datalink options include dual Ku- and L-band air-to-ground and satcom for beyond line of sight.