A German government/industry team has carried out the first launch of a remote carrier flight test demonstrator from an Airbus A400M transport as part of the development of the Franco/German/Spanish Future Combat Air System (FCAS). The demonstrator air vehicle—a modified Airbus Do-DT25 drone—was launched facing forwards from rails mounted on the rear ramp of a Luftwaffe A400M transport, according to an announcement by Airbus on December 12.
During the test, the demonstrator was initially controlled from the A400M, and as it glided away the engines were started. Control was then handed over to a ground station at the Todendorf range on the Baltic coast, from where it was guided to a successful landing.
“The excellent collaboration with our German customer and partners on the A400M UAV Launcher campaign is further evidence of how the development of FCAS will take innovation and technologies to the next level,” said Airbus Defence and Space CEO Michael Schoellhorn. “FCAS as a system of systems is starting to take shape now.”
The team undertaking the test—comprising the Bundeswehr (armed forces), Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR, German aerospace center), Airbus, and local companies SFL and Geradts, supported by the BAAINBw procurement office—employed rapid prototyping techniques to bring the demonstrator and the launch apparatus to flight test in just six months.
Remote carriers are key elements of FCAS, flying in close cooperation with manned aircraft. Transport aircraft such as the A400M are expected to act as 'mother ships', launching up to 12 heavy or 50 small remote carriers to act as adjuncts to the manned aircraft. Although they are intended to feature high degrees of automation, they will remain under the control of a pilot.