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NCSIST Cardinal (series)

ISR Small Unmanned Aircraft System (SUAS) [ 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.

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.©MilitaryFactory.com
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Service Year

Taiwan national flag graphic

In Limited Service.

National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST) - Taiwan
(View other Aviaton-Related Manufacturers)
National flag of Taiwan Taiwan
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
Ground Attack (Bombing, Strafing)
Ability to conduct aerial bombing of ground targets by way of (but not limited to) guns, bombs, missiles, rockets, and the like.
Close-Air Support (CAS)
Developed to operate in close proximity to active ground elements by way of a broad array of air-to-ground ordnance and munitions options.
Special-Mission: Search & Rescue (SAR)
Ability to locate and extract personnel from areas of potential harm or peril (i.e. downed airmen in the sea).
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.
X-Plane (Developmental, Prototype, Technology Demonstrator)
Aircraft developed for the role of prototyping, technology demonstration, or research / data collection.
Special Forces
Serving Special Forces / Special Operations elements and missions.
Unmanned Capability
Aircraft inherently designed (or later developed) with an unmanned capability to cover a variety of over-battlefield roles.

Series has a tactical capability to take-off and / or land vertically, a quality commonly associated with helicopters.
Inherent ability of airframe to take considerable damage.
Capability to travel considerable distances through onboard fuel stores.
Ability to operate over ocean in addition to surviving the special rigors of the maritime environment.
Design features ability to fly sans pilot, actions controlled onboard through programming and / or ground-based operator.
Payload supports photographic equipment providing still and / or real-time image / video results.

6.2 ft
(1.90 m)
4.3 ft
(1.30 m)
Empty Wgt
9 lb
(4 kg)
13 lb
(6 kg)
Wgt Diff
+4 lb
(+2 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the NCSIST Cardinal II production variant)
monoplane / shoulder-mounted / straight
Design utilizes a single primary wing mainplane; this represent the most popular mainplane arrangement.
Mainplanes are mounted at the upper section of the fuselage, generally at the imaginary line intersecting the pilot's shoulders.
The planform involves use of basic, straight mainplane members.
(Structural descriptors pertain to the NCSIST Cardinal II production variant)
Installed: 1 x Engine seated at the front of the fuselage driving a two-bladed propeller unit in tractor arrangement.
Max Speed
34 mph
(55 kph | 30 kts)
Cruise Speed
22 mph
(35 kph | 19 kts)
Max. Speed Diff
+12 mph
(+20 kph | 11 kts)
1,969 ft
(600 m | 0 mi)
31 mi
(50 km | 93 nm)

♦ MACH Regime (Sonic)
RANGES (MPH) Subsonic: <614mph | Transonic: 614-921 | Supersonic: 921-3836 | Hypersonic: 3836-7673 | Hi-Hypersonic: 7673-19180 | Reentry: >19030

(Showcased performance specifications pertain to the NCSIST Cardinal II production variant. Performance specifications showcased above are subject to environmental factors as well as aircraft configuration. Estimates are made when Real Data not available. Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database or View aircraft by powerplant type)

Supported Types

(Not all ordnance types may be represented in the showcase above)
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.

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Images Gallery

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


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