The Piaggio P.1HH Hammerhead MALE UAV made its first flight late last year, and has been ordered by the Italian Air Force, the company announced this week during the IDEX exhibition in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Piaggio Aerospace is majority-owned by UAE company Mubadala.
The HammerHead is an unmanned derivative of the P.180 Avanti twin-turboprop business aircraft, with Selex ES providing vehicle management, vehicle control, datalink and ground control systems. The maiden flight took place on December 22 from Trapani-Birgi air base in Sicily, during which aircraft systems and datalink were checked out at varying speeds and altitudes. The basic functions of the ground control segment were also proved. The first flight was preceded by approximately 50 flights with the HammerHead demo aircraft, a manned Avanti testbed fitted with the P.1HH’s systems. “You can run more risk with a manned flight; there is a pilot to take control if things go wrong,” remarked Piaggio CEO Carlo Logli. “With unmanned you need a greater level of maturity.”
“We are very pleased with the result of the maiden flight,” reported project pilot Sergio Paloni. “The aerial vehicle was seamlessly operated remotely with no flaws experienced.” For the first flight the P.1HH was controlled manually via the datalink. Now the test campaign is moving toward providing an interim capability with automatic takeoff and landing (ATOL) and some sensor capabilities. This phase is expected to be complete by the summer and will encompass 150 hours of flight. Piaggio is building a second P.1HH prototype, which will begin flying later this year with full autonomous capability and mission systems.
Italian intentions to buy the P.1HH were first made public in June 2013 at the Paris airshow. The air force is to acquire an initial batch of three P.1HH systems, each comprising a ground station and two air vehicles. The first system is due for delivery in early 2016.
Meanwhile, Piaggio is forging ahead with another military Avanti derivative, the Multi-purpose Patrol Aircraft (MPA). This is being developed in conjunction with ADASI, which is part of the newly created Emirates Defence Industries Company that brings together defense-related elements of the Mubadala, Tawazun and EAI companies into a single organization. The MPA version has longer-span wings, foreplanes and tailplanes than the P.180 Avanti, to provide greater endurance for patrol missions. Saab is providing the mission suite. A prototype is set to fly in the third quarter of this year, with the aim of making its public debut at the Dubai airshow in November.