Airbus VSR700 makes first autonomous free flight

Departments - Up and Soaring

Boeing Australia powers up Loyal Wingman; LiquidPiston receives US Army SBIR grant.

October 9, 2020

Airbus Helicopters’ prototype VSR700 unmanned aerial system (UAS) performed its first free flight at a drone test center in southern France, lasting 10 minutes.

This significant step follows the first flight in November 2019 when the prototype was tethered to comply with regulatory requirements. For the free flight, Airbus Helicopters implemented a virtual perimeter with geofencing, enabling flight clearance from airworthiness authorities.

“The free flight achieved by the VSR700 is a major step leading up to the sea trials that will be performed at the end of 2021 as part of the de-risking studies for the French Navy’s future drone,” Airbus Helicopters CEO Bruno Even says.

Derived from Hélicoptères Guimbal’s Cabri G2, the VSR700 is in the 500kg-to-1,000kg maximum take-off weight range. It can carry multiple full-size naval sensors for extended periods and can operate from existing ships, alongside a helicopter, with a low logistical footprint.


Boeing Australia powers up Loyal Wingman

In September, Boeing Australia powered up the commercial turbofan engine on the first unmanned Loyal Wingman aircraft as part of ground testing and preparations for first flight.

This milestone comes on the heels of Boeing completing the first aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force earlier this year, the foundation for the artificial intelligence-powered teaming aircraft being developed for the global defense market.

“We’ve been able to select a very light, off-the-shelf jet engine for the unmanned system as a result of the advanced manufacturing technologies applied to the aircraft,” says Dr. Shane Arnott, Boeing Airpower Teaming System program director.


LiquidPiston receives US Army SBIR grant

Developer of advanced rotary internal combustion engines LiquidPiston received a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the U.S. Army to develop its X-Engine as a hybrid-electric propulsion platform for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

The company was also named one of 12 winners in the U.S. Army xTechSearch 3.0 – a prize competition to accelerate innovative technology to help solve key Army challenges – for its X-Engine configured as a high-efficiency auxiliary power unit (APU).

“When we reimagined the rotary engine with the X-Engine, we knew it could be used to improve power generation in a number of different ways, given its high power-to-weight, efficiency, and ability to run on heavy fuel including Jet-A/JP8 fuel which the Army wants to use exclusively,” LiquidPiston CEO and co-founder Alec Shkolnik says.

The High-Efficiency Hybrid Cycle (HEHC) X-Engine, configured as a parallel electric hybrid, allows unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to cruise quietly using electric-only power, then restart the engine mid-flight, enabling more efficient fuel use and stealthier missions.

In APU applications, the X-Engine approaches the power density and packaging of a turbine-based APU, with the efficiency of a diesel engine.