Naval unmanned Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) systems are a growing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) subgroup. Modern warships have nearly-always relied on some sort of airborne element to reconnoiter areas Beyond-the-Horizon (BtH) and the role use to be fulfilled (rather effectively) by recoverable balloons and floatplanes. However, today's technologically advanced vessels require a more modern solution so several major UAV developers have centered the fray in delivering maritime-minded, helicopter-type unmanned vehicles to fulfill various ongoing requirements - some to be used as reconnaissance platforms and others as resupply air systems.
Airbus Helicopters has based a vehicle on the former with the framework made up of the French-made Guimbal Cabri G2, a twin-seat, single-engine light helicopter introduced in 2008. The revised, unmanned product is the "VSR700", retaining all of the excellent qualities of the lightweight and relatively simple G2 helicopter. The VSR700 was brought about to fulfill a French Navy requirement for a ship-launchable and -retrievable unmanned aircraft system. As a compact rotorcraft, the VSR700 naturally holds a small footprint aboard the deck of a warship - whether considering the larger Mistral-class amphibious assault platforms or traditional French Navy frigates currently in service.
Outwardly the helicopter carries over the same form and functionality as its manned predecessor. However, the cockpit section has been covered over and now holds pertinent operational systems. The optics set is fitted at the "chin" position and other sensors are mounted under the belly of the fuselage. The fuselage also houses the single engine installation which drives a three-bladed main rotor overhead. A shaft is buried in a thin tail stem driving power to the Fenestron-shrouded tail rotor unit. Horizontal stabilizers are affixed towards the aft-end of the tail stem. The undercarriage consists of a single four-point, twin-skid arrangement which further simplifies construction and maintenance of the vehicle.
The VSR700 is set to be displayed at the 2017 Paris Air Show as a static exhibit. Evaluation of the aircraft is set to be conducted before the end of 2017.
January 2018 - It was announced that the prototype of the VSR700 program will be ready for its first-flight for sometime in 2018.
November 2019 - The VSR700 has completed its first-flight.
July 2020 - Airbus has completed the first tether-free flight of a VSR700 unmanned system.
July 2020 - Sea trials involving the VSR700 system are scheduled to begin before the end of 2021.
April 2021 - Having completed its low-speed flight envelope phase, the VSR700 now moves towards its delayed sea trials for 2022.
March 2022 - The VSR700 has begun active autonomous take-off and landing tests under Airbus Helicopters.
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Maritime / Navy
Land-based or shipborne capability for operating over-water in various maritime-related roles while supported by allied naval surface elements.
✓Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance (ISR), Scout
Surveil ground targets / target areas to assess environmental threat levels, enemy strength, or enemy movement.
Aircraft inherently designed (or later developed) with an unmanned capability to cover a variety of over-battlefield roles.
20.7 ft (6.30 m)
23.6 ft (7.20 m)
9.0 ft (2.75 m)
882 lb (400 kg)
1,543 lb (700 kg)
+661 lb (+300 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base Airbus Helicopters VSR700 production variant)
1 x Continental CD-155 jet-fuel/diesel piston-driven engine developing 155 horsepower and driving a three-bladed main rotor and Fenestron-shrouded tail rotor unit.
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