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Airbus Helicopters wants to enter the market for unmanned naval helicopters. The first VSR700 prototype made its maiden flight in southern France on November 8. Several take-offs and landings were carried out with the longest flight lasting 10 minutes.

“The VSR700 is a fully-fledged unmanned aerial system, capitalising on Airbus Helicopters’ extensive experience of advanced autopilot systems and engineering expertise to provide modern militaries with new capabilities”, said Bruno Even, Airbus Helicopters CEO. “This first flight of the VSR700 prototype is a major milestone for the programme as we make progress on the operational demonstrator for the French Navy that will perform trials in 2021 in partnership with Naval Group.”

According to the company, the VSR700 prototype is a step change from the optionally piloted demonstrator that first flew in 2017 and which was based on a modified Cabri G2 equipped for autonomous flight. Compared to the demonstrator, the VSR700 prototype has “a specialized set of avionics and an advanced flight control system,” a payload bay in place of the pilot station designed to manage mission equipment, as well as a “sleeker, more aerodynamic shape to improve flight performance.”

For the maiden flight the VSR700 was tethered with 30-metre cables to fully secure the flight test zone. The subsequent phases of the flight test programme will now evolve towards free flight.

Dorothee Frank