Airbus Helicopters and Austrian company Schiebel have joined forces to demonstrate combined operations by manned and unmanned rotary-wing vehicles. They claim to be the first European helicopter companies to perform so-called Manned Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) to the highest-level of interoperability, which is known as Level Five. The test flights were sponsored by the Austrian Armaments and Defence Technology Agency, and involved a manned H145M and an unmanned S-100 Camcopter.
An S-100 operator sitting in the H-145M exercised full control of the UAS, including takeoff and landing. During the flights, control of the S-100 was also temporarily handed over to a ground-based operator by the pilot, to simulate the return of the manned helicopter for refueling. The two aircraft jointly flew different scenarios, including the detection of objects hidden in places not accessible by traditional helicopters.
Airbus Helicopters said that the challenges of data transfer interference and electromagnetic compatibility of the UAS with the manned helicopter, as well as the integration of Schiebel’s UAS mission planning and control system into the H145’s architecture, were successfully managed. The next step will be to optimize the human-machine interface based on a thorough analysis of the crew workload using the results of the flight tests, Airbus added.
“Manned-Unmanned Teaming multiplies the capabilities of both systems,” said Mark Henning, program manager at Airbus Helicopters. “Smaller UAS with vertical takeoff and landing capabilities can, for example, fly around obstacles, such as trees or buildings, closer than a helicopter could. They are able to explore unknown territory and deliver information to the [manned] helicopter crew that is operating from a safe position and that can then step in with that helicopter’s superior effects, having received a clear picture from the UAS,” Henning continued.
Schiebel said that MUM-T could provide “mission-enhancing” advantages for army aviation. The pilots of manned fixed-wing aircraft, as well as helicopters, could take full advantage of the S-100’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities in complex, contested missions. “Another key advantage of such an approach is improved datalink security,” explained Chris Day, Schiebel’s chief technical officer. “The datalink between the manned and unmanned platform can be moved from a static to a dynamic environment, away from the ground, making it more robust and harder to detect.”
Airbus Helicopters said that MUM-T could be applied to its entire product range, including the NH90 and the Tiger. The company is developing its own rotary-wing UAS for surveillance, designated VSR700, and which is based on the manned civil Cabri G2 light helicopter developed by French company Guimbal.