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Airbus Helicopters’ uncrewed VSR700 rotorcraft has successfully concluded an extensive flight test campaign, showcasing its autonomous takeoff and landing capabilities aboard a French Navy frigate. This remarkable achievement unfolded over the course of a week, from October 2 to October 9, aboard the Provence frigate off the picturesque Mediterranean coast. During these tests, the VSR700 demonstrator completed more than 8 hours of flight over seven missions, the most extended of which extended close to 2 hours.

Nicolas Delmas, the head of the VSR700 program at Airbus Helicopters, lauded the outcome, stating, “These tests enabled us to validate the drone’s ability to operate from a warship, to take off and land autonomously, and to carry out surveillance and intelligence missions.” He emphasized the aim of minimizing human intervention, as maritime operational conditions demand a departure from conventional piloting procedures.

Moreover, the successful demonstration affirmed the VSR700’s capacity to function in the challenging maritime environment. This encompassed dealing with the electromagnetic conditions onboard a combat vessel and navigating the unique winds and air currents specific to this versatile multimission frigate.

This achievement marks the culmination of a derisking study commissioned by the French defense materiel agency DGA in December 2017, as part of the French Navy’s Air Drone System (SDAM) program. The SDAM program stipulates the requirement for an uncrewed rotary-wing aircraft system to act as a remote sensor on the stern of a warship, undertaking intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. The VSR700 complies with these criteria by integrating an L3Harris Wescam MX-10 EO/IR low-weight imaging system and a radar system developed by France’s Diades Marine, in addition to an AIS shipping identification receiver.

The VSR700, based on the Guimbal Cabri G2 light helicopter, is praised for its exceptional flight performance. The I4Drones mission system, developed by Naval Group, was responsible for integrating this system onto military vessels.

Contract negotiations with the DGA are currently in progress, with a decision anticipated by year-end. Airbus Helicopters is prepared to offer an initial operational capability in 2026 and is eager to be selected as part of the SDAM program.

Under the military programming law, there is a requirement for eight systems to be in place by the end of 2030 and at least 15 by 2035. Airbus Helicopters also has plans to introduce the VSR700 for international export. Notably, they have signed a memorandum of understanding with Korean Air in 2022 to explore potential joint development, along with other unofficial partnerships. Delmas underscored the versatility and flexibility of the VSR700, making it an attractive candidate for both military and civilian applications, signifying a promising future for this groundbreaking program.

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