Germany’s Bundeswehr, Airbus, the German Aerospace Center DLR, and German companies SFL and Geradts have jointly carried out the world’s first successful launch and operation of a Remote Carrier flight test demonstrator from a flying A400M. Multiplying the force and extending the range of unmanned systems will be one of the future roles of Airbus’ military transport aircraft in the Future Combat Air System (FCAS). Remote Carriers will be an important component of FCAS. Military transport aircraft such as the A400M will play an important role: as motherships, they will bring the Remote Carriers as close as possible to their areas of operation before releasing up to 50 small or up to 12 heavy Remote Carriers.
“The excellent collaboration with our German customer and partners on the A400M UAV Launcher campaign is further evidence of how the development of FCAS will take innovation and technologies to the next level,” said Airbus Defence and Space CEO Michael Schoellhorn. “FCAS as a system of systems is starting to take shape now.” The device for launching Remote Carriers from a flying A400M was developed in just six months. For the test flight, it was loaded onto the ramp of a Bundeswehr A400M, from which the Remote Carrier demonstrator, a modified Airbus Do-DT25 drone, was launched. After the release, the Do-DT25’s engines were started and it continued in powered flight mode. The crew on board the A400M then handed over control to an operator on the ground, who safely commanded and landed the drone.
These will then join manned aircraft, operating with a high degree of automation although always under a pilot’s control. To get the A400M UAV Launcher ready for the test campaign, Airbus, the Bundeswehr Technical Centre for Aircraft and Aeronautical Equipment (WTD 61), DLR, SFL and Geradts applied new ways of working such as rapid prototyping and a joint flight testing approach. This enabled the multidisciplinary team to develop and integrate the system, bringing it into the needed systems-of-systems context in a very short time, ready for flight testing. Throughout the development, this flexible industrial setup and new collaborative ways of working were supported by the German procurement office, BAAINBw.
Throughout the test the UAV was connected and transmitted data to the A400M launch aircraft via Airbus’ new Modular Airborne Combat Cloud Services (MACCS). This data transfer illustrates how Remote Carriers can be connected to a combat cloud network, providing vital information by serving the role of ‘eyes and ears’ over the battlefield, whilst also enabling them to be tasked by the manned aircraft’s operators during their missions. With the A400M able to carry as many as 40 similarly sized RCs, Airbus said it will continue to validate the airlifter as a launch platform with the next flight scheduled for later in 2023.