Airbus's Optionally-Piloted Helicopter Goes to Sea

 - March 25, 2022, 6:18 AM
With safety pilot aboard, the VSR700 demonstrator OPV approaches the landing deck of a civilian vessel during its first ship-based trials. (Photo: Airbus Helicopters)

Airbus Helicopters has undertaken a series of deck operations with the demonstrator for its VSR700 rotary-wing unmanned aerial system (RWUAS). In the course of 150 take-offs and landings, the optionally-piloted vehicle trialed the autonomous take-off and landing (ATOL) system, operating from the landing deck of a civilian vessel sailing off the French coast near Brest.

Making its first uncrewed flight in December 2018, the optionally-piloted vehicle (OPV) is a modified Guimbal Cabri G2 light helicopter outfitted with the autonomous systems of the VSR700 but retaining the ability to be flown by a single pilot. Initial deck trials were flown by the pilot to assess handling in proximity to the ship, but were incrementally transferred to the autonomous system. The OPV is equipped with the all-weather, day/night Airbus DeckFinder system. During the trials it was tested in both autonomous and semi-autonomous modes, and in a range of sea states.

“These tests in real-life conditions constitute a crucial step towards the campaign that we will conduct at sea with the DGA and the French navy,” said Nicolas Delmas, head of the Airbus VSR700 program. “Using the OPV, we have demonstrated the unique autonomous take-off and landing capabilities of the VSR700. We have also proved the optimal functioning of the vehicle and its command station interface onboard a vessel in realistic conditions.”

The unmanned VSR700 is based on the same helicopter, and is being developed by France’s Direction Générale de l’Armament (DGA) as part of the Système de Drone Aérien de la Marine (SDAM) program for the Marine Nationale (French navy). The VSR700 is intended to operate alongside manned helicopters from current navy vessels, carrying a range of sensors.

The prototype VSR700 first flew in 2020 and was engaged in envelope expansion trials through 2021. It is due to conduct its first at-sea trials aboard a navy frigate later this year. A second prototype was ordered in April 2021 to accelerate the development program.