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NCSIST Cardinal (series)

ISR Small Unmanned Aircraft System (SUAS)

Taiwan | 2016

"The NCSIST Cardinal small UAS series currently serves with the Taiwanese Marine and Army branches."

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 03/17/2023 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site; No A.I. was used in the generation of this content.
The "Cardinal" is a small Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) designed, developed, and manufactured by the nation of Taiwan through the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST). The establishment is seeing a growing stable of drone solutions to bolster the defensive capabilities of the island nation caught in the shadow of neighboring China - who has not ruled out force in taking back the island. The Cardinal UAS series is designed for use in the general Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance (ISR) role and, therefore, can be operated across military, civilian, and industry sectors with equal success. As such, this inherent versatility allows the aircraft to cover scouting, humanitarian assistance, structural reviews, border and fisheries enforcement, forestry / fire-fighting and the like without change to its natural design.

Simplifying the operational aspects of this product, the air vehicle is launched from the ground by hand and recovered via "belly" landing or free-fall (the latter action retarded by the deployment of a parachute). It's operating weight - 12lb - is such that a single operator can hold the unit prior to launch. Dimensions include a running length of 6.2 feet and a wingspan of 4.2 feet.

The general design of the aircraft sees a fuselage with slab sides, the engine mounted at the nose, and a traditional single-finned tail unit with low-set horizontal planes. The mainplanes are set at shoulder-height along the sides of the fuselage. No undercarriage is fitted. The complete system includes not only the aircraft itself but a ground-based antenna assembly and user-operated Ground Control Station (GCS). Data transmission is in real-time to the ground operator.

The vehicle carries an onboard computer and Electro-Optical (EO) camera and is given an in-built autopilot capability as well as GPS navigation - all standard features on modern small-class UAVs.

With its onboard engine driving a two-bladed propeller unit at the nose in tractor fashion, the aircraft can reach speeds of 34 miles-per-hour and range out to 31 miles.

Development of the Cardinal series spawned the initial "Cardinal I" prototype which then led to the operational-level "Cardinal II". The Cardinal II began development in 2009 and was formally unveiled at the 2015 Paris Air Show. The subsequent "Cardinal III" has been given a Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) capability to further its tactical value. A direct-attack, expendable "loitering munition" version was detailed in 2019 as the "Fire Cardinal".

To date (2023), Taiwan Marines and Army units are both operators of the Cardinal series.

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Power & Performance
Those special qualities that separate one aircraft design from another. Performance specifications presented assume optimal operating conditions for the NCSIST Cardinal II ISR Small Unmanned Aircraft System (SUAS).
1 x Engine seated at the front of the fuselage driving a two-bladed propeller unit in tractor arrangement.
34 mph
55 kph | 30 kts
Max Speed
22 mph
35 kph | 19 kts
Cruise Speed
1,969 ft
600 m | 0 miles
Service Ceiling
31 miles
50 km | 27 nm
Operational Range
City-to-City Ranges
Operational range when compared to distances between major cities (in KM).
The nose-to-tail, wingtip-to-wingtip physical qualities of the NCSIST Cardinal II ISR Small Unmanned Aircraft System (SUAS).
6.2 ft
1.90 m
O/A Length
4.3 ft
(1.30 m)
O/A Width
9 lb
(4 kg)
Empty Weight
13 lb
(6 kg)
Design Balance
The three qualities reflected below are altitude, speed, and range. The more full the box, the more balanced the design.
Notable series variants as part of the NCSIST Cardinal (series) family line.
Cardinal - Base Series Name.
Cardinal I - Original series prototype.
Cardinal II - Initial operational-level model.
Cardinal III - VTOL capabilities added.
Fire Cardinal - Expendable loitering munition design of 2019.
Global customers who have evaluated and/or operated the NCSIST Cardinal (series). Nations are displayed by flag, each linked to their respective national aircraft listing.

Total Production: 50 Units

Contractor(s): National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST) - Taiwan
National flag of Taiwan

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Image of the NCSIST Cardinal (series)
Image from official NCSIST marketing materials.

Going Further...
The NCSIST Cardinal (series) ISR Small Unmanned Aircraft System (SUAS) appears in the following collections:
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