Recent flight tests of the Piaggio Aerospace P.1HH Hammerhead have included beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) flight control by satellite of the twin-turboprop Avanti business aircraft modified as a UAV. Piaggio claims that this is the first such BLOS test performed with a European-designed remotely piloted MALE (medium-altitude long-endurance) aircraft.
The flights were performed from Birgi Airport in Italy and used the Athena-Fidus communications satellite developed by Franco-Italian company Telespazio. The satellite link also received and passed along data from the Hammerhead’s onboard sensors. The achievement “is the evidence of Piaggio’s commitment to the continuous development of the P.1HH HammerHead [which has demonstrated] uncontested excellence within the industry,” said Piaggio chief technology officer Fabio Guida.
Piaggio resumed test flights of the Hammerhead last July, after the loss of the prototype in May 2016. The UAV first flew in 2013, and the company later claimed a strong commitment from the Italian air force. But a proposed contract for six aircraft (three systems) was never concluded. However, a company official told AIN this week that production of eight aircraft ordered by the UAE Armed Forces is underway, with six of them due for delivery this year. Piaggio is wholly owned by Mubadala Investment Company based in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
During the past 13 years, Italy’s Leonardo has flown two experimental MALE UAVs, Sky-X and Sky-Y, that have satellite links. However, although these links have transmitted sensor data, they have not controlled the UAVs, if Piaggio’s claim is correct.
Additional reporting by Ian Sheppard