Euro­copter val­i­dates OPV


Euro­copter val­i­dated its op­tion­ally-pi­loted he­li­copter ca­pa­bil­i­ties with suc­cess­ful un­manned EC145 demon­stra­tion flights at Istres, France. Euro­copter’s abil­ity to in­te­grate un­manned flight ca­pa­bil­i­ties into its he­li­copter fam­ily has been val­i­dated by an op­tion­ally pi­loted ve­hi­cle (OPV) demon­stra­tion pro­gramme, which used an EC145 to fly routes that in­cluded de­ploy­ment of an ex­ter­nal sling load and a rep­re­sen­ta­tive ob­ser­va­tion mis­sion.

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.

“Euro­copter in­no­va­tion is once again ex­pand­ing the mis­sion ca­pa­bil­i­ties of helicopters, and we are ready to ap­ply the proven op­tion­ally pi­loted ve­hi­cle com­pe­tence in meet­ing cus­tomers’ needs,” ex­plained Euro­copter Chief Tech­ni­cal Of­fi­cer Jean-Brice Du­mont. “This lat­est achieve­ment re­sults from our com­pany’s ex­per­tise in flight con­trol and au­topi­lot sys­tems, hu­man-ma­chine in­ter­face, sys­tem ar­chi­tec­ture and in­te­gra­tion.”

The un­manned demon­stra­tion—along with the pre­vi­ous flights—used a four-di­men­sional flight plan that was uploaded to the he­li­copter, with its start­ing and com­ple­tion points sit­u­ated on the Istres Air Force Base’s Run­way 15/33. 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.

For de­liv­ery of the ex­ter­nal load, the he­li­copter en­tered a planned hover—en­abling the ground sta­tion con­troller to pro­vide flight con­trol in­puts in ori­ent­ing the EC145 over the drop point. The ground con­troller then trans­mit­ted a com­mand to re­lease load once the he­li­copter and load were cor­rectly po­si­tioned.

The OPV flight ca­pa­bil­ity was de­vel­oped in an in­ter­nal­ly­funded Euro­copter pro­gramme, and was co­or­di­nated by a team at the com­pany’s Donauwörth, Ger­many, fa­cil­ity. Ini­tial tests with a mon­i­tor­ing pilot aboard the EC145 were flown from Donauwörth and then at Istres.

The EC145 demon­stra­tor is a Euro­copter test bed he­li­copter with an en­hanced dual-du­plex four-axis au­to­matic flight con­trol sys­tem and the lat­est nav­i­ga­tion sys­tems. In ad­di­tion, the he­li­copter is fit­ted with the “plug-in” OPV avion­ics rack in its cabin be­hind the pilot seats, which con­tains the data link sub­sys­tems.

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