Saturday, December 1, 2012

Dassault's Neuron takes to the air

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV's, also known colloquially as 'drones') are becoming ubiquitous all over the world.  They're no longer the sole preserve of major aerospace powers;  even smaller economies are now producing their own versions (see, for example, Chile's Lascar, Serbia's Pegaz 011, South Africa's Seeker and Bateleur projects, Turkey's Anka, and many others around the world).  The two currently-dominant nations in the design, production and operational deployment of UAV's remain the USA and Israel.  I wouldn't like to bet which is ahead in terms of currently operational technology.  Certainly, they appear to be the only nations with operational 'stealth' UAV's.  (Israel's program was revealed only this week.)

Europe is trying to catch up.  Three multi-nation UAV 'stealth' pilot projects (intended as technology demonstrators rather than prototypes of production aircraft) are currently extant:  EADS's Barracuda involving Germany and Spain, BAE Systems' Taranis in the UK, and Dassault's Neuron involving France, Sweden, Greece, Switzerland, Spain and Italy.

The latter project flew for the first time earlier this month.  Flight Global reports:

Dassault today announced completing first flight of the Neuron, an unmanned combat air vehicle developed among six European partners.

The 5t-class stealth technology demonstrator powered by the Rolls-Royce Turbomeca Adour engine was flown from Istres, the flight test base of prime contractor Dassault.

. . .

The aircraft will continue to be tested in France until 2014 when it moves to Vidsel, Sweden for operational trials, and, finally, to the Perdadesfogu range Italy to measure stealth characteristics and live-firing tests.

There's more at the link.  Here's a video clip of the first flight.

If the Neuron looks suspiciously similar to Northrop Grumman's X-47B, Boeing's Phantom Ray and BAE Systems' Taranis, that's because stealth features currently impose basic configuration requirements that dictate the aircraft's overall shape and design features.  Future developments may change that, but until then, all UAV's of this type are going to resemble each other to a greater or lesser extent.  (Also, of course, engineers and designers can see what others in the field are doing, so there's a certain amount of cross-pollination of ideas going on at all times.)

At any rate, congratulations to Dassault and its European partners on achieving this milestone.  I'll be interested to see what production UAV's may come out of this proof-of-concept program if it's successful.



Old NFO said...

Yep, only 'so' many ways to do that stuff... The REAL question is going to be airspace management...

Anonymous said...

ONFO hits the nail on the head. Assuring the FAA that we can control our UAVs consistently while guaranteeing "see-and-avoid" level of in-flight safety is a mighty big challenge. The developers of drones to date have not been incentivized to do so.


Will said...


just wait until one takes out an airliner. Talk about "incentive" after the fact!

Stuart garfath said...

A variation on a familiar theme.
A very old theme.
'New' flying machines immediately renderded out of date the instant their wheels leave the runway.
It's happened before, it's happening NOW, as this self-serving video shows.

Cybrludite said...

I was wondering if the French had hired the great Soviet-era designer Comrade Reguspatoff away from the Russians.

(Reg.US.Pat.Off., for those unfamiliar with the good Comrade's work...)