Helicopter Takes Unmanned Flight!
Eurocopter launched in early April a series of flights for a new rotary-wing solution that will expand the mission capabilities of Eurocopter helicopters. The optionally piloted vehicle (OPV) program, which was conducted at the French Air Force base in Istres, France, was revealed on April 25 during a demonstration flight. This unmanned demonstration -- similar to the previous flights-- used a four-dimensional flight plan that was uploaded to the helicopter. After an automatic takeoff, the EC145 flew the circuit via multiple pre-programmed waypoints, during which the helicopter performed a mid-route hover to deploy a load from the external sling. The EC145 continued on a return route segment representing a typical observation mission, followed by an automatic landing. Visibility during the EC145's unmanned flights was provided to the ground station via onboard cameras. With this capability fully validated, Eurocopter is now positioned to pursue OPV flight capabilities for its product line of light, medium and heavy-lift helicopters -- enabling these rotorcraft to be flown by pilots or in an unmanned mode.