Leonardo’s largest remotely piloted air system (RPAS) to date, the Falco Xplorer, made its first flight on January 15. Serial number 0001 took off from the Italian air force flight test center at Trapani, Sicily, and flew for around an hour over the sea before safely returning to the air base. The ensuing test campaign will include verification of its compliance with NATO STANAG 4671 airworthiness requirements.
Revealed at the 2019 Paris Air Show, the Falco Xplorer builds on the experience gained with the original Falco and its long-wing Falco Evo derivative, which have achieved some success in the export market, including the use of the type by the United Nations in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Whereas the Evo is a wide-span version of the baseline Falco, the 1.3-tonne Xplorer is a new airframe that offers far greater range/payload capabilities. With a ceiling of more than 24,000 ft (7310 m), the Falco Xplorer can carry a 770-pound (350-kg) payload for over 24 hours.
Leonardo advertises itself as a “one-stop shop” for RPASs, and the Falco Xplorer is equipped with an integrated suite of Leonardo-supplied sensors. They comprise the Gabbiano T-80 multi-mode surveillance radar, electro-optic turret, automatic identification system (AIS) for maritime missions, and the SAGE electronic intelligence-gathering system. An option is a hyperspectral sensor that could be used for pollution monitoring and agricultural survey work. The Xplorer employs the same ground control system that Leonardo created for the earlier Falco. A satellite link is installed for beyond-line-of-sight operations.
However, Falco Xplorer’s mission suite is also of open architecture, allowing for the integration of third-party sensors. The system is not subject to International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) restrictions, and meets the criteria of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) class II, in turn permitting it to be exported around the world.