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Diminutive Falco UAV is first to carry both video and radar

 - November 12, 2009, 11:04 PM
Selex Galileo, which produces the Falco tactical UAV, has recently integrated multiple reconnaissance sensors on the vehicle. With an mtow of only 1,078 pounds, the Falco may be the smallest UAV to carry both video and radar sensors. The Anglo-Italian company manufactures the sensors and the ground control system, as well as the air vehicle and its avionics.

It’s an open secret that Pakistan is the first customer. AIN has learned that five Falco systems have been supplied, each comprising four aircraft and one spare. They have been flying over the “badlands” of northwest Pakistan since early 2008, “looking into caves and terrorist camps,” according to a well-informed source.

Those aircraft carry only an electro-optical/infrared camera, but another Falco is now flying with the Selex Galileo PicoSAR radar added in an extended nose. This newly developed sensor has an active electronically scanned array and was specifically designed for small platforms, including UAVs. It offers three radar imaging modes, plus a ground moving target indicator (GMTI) and a Geo-MTI mode. The PicoSAR weighs just under 40 pounds, is fixed-mounted and requires no special aperture on the UAV, yet it has a resolution of just one meter at ranges up to 12.5 miles from the platform on which it is installed. Selex Galileo has already sold demonstration models of the PicoSAR to the UK and Norwegian governments.

The Falco was designed with the redundancy required to meet the draft air- worthiness rules for UAVs devised by the European Air Safety Agency. It became
the first drone to be granted a civil permit to fly in Europe (although still only within segregated airspace). The Falco can be flown in manual or fully automatic modes, including take off and landing. It has been flight-tested in Italy, Bulgaria, the UK and most recently Finland. There, last July, Selex Galileo validated the latest version of its high mobility ground control station (HM-GCS), a truck-mounted system that can be located close to the area of interest and can take control of the UAV in flight. Thus the operating radius of the Falco is easily extended beyond the wideband datalink’s line-of-sight from the main, container-housed GCS. However, the automatic control mode allows the UAV to fly to waypoints beyond the range of the datalink.

The trials in Finland included launches from a pneumatic catapult–supplied by local company Robonic–and automatic landings at full weight. These trials demonstrated that further payloads could be added, including ELINT, according to Selex Galileo. The engine provides 1.2 kW of power to the sensors, which run on a separate power supply from the avionics and allows “plug-and-play.” The sensors are managed by a LAN onboard the UAV.

Three different electro-optical/infrared sensors have already been flown on the Falco: Selex Galileo’s EOST 46 and smaller turrets from FLIR Systems and Tamam. A laser-rangefinder can be added. The maximum payload is 154 pounds.

The Falco has an endurance of more than 14 hours, with one basic payload. It can fly longer if additional fuel is carried on the hardpoints that are attached to the wing sponsons. The best operating height is between 5,000 feet and 10,000 feet, although Selex Galileo quotes a ceiling of nearly 20,000 feet.

According to its makers, the Falco system has been designed for maximum deployability. It can be airlifted by a C-130 transport and 10 people can make it ready to fly within four hours. Only five people are needed for actual operations.