nEUROn Project Takes Off

For some time now Dassault Aviation has been taking part in the continuous pan-European nEUROn program by experimenting with autonomous flight. Now they finally look set to celebrate their first fully autonomous flight making use of the AVE-D technology demonstration airframe.

The European Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) technology demonstrator is a delta wing stealth vehicle that has been created as part of the final phase of the French Dassault Aviation LOGIDUC “combat drone” program. The aircraft, better known as the UCAV nEUROn, is a single-engine delta that was originally inspired by the striking B-2 Spirit by Northrop Grumman. So far the final product is 9.5 meters in length with a wingspan of 12.5 meters. The aircraft has an overall weight of 6 000 kilograms and its maximum speed is Mach 0.8. Though Dassault was originally the name behind the project, it has since grown much larger than this aircraft company and European involvement now includes Saab (Sweden), RUAG Aerospace (Switzerland), Alenia (Italy), EAB (Greece) and EADS CASA (Spain). The overall design, flight testing and development of the flight control system of the aircraft has been the exclusive responsibility of Dassault Aviation, yet each of the other European organizations have played a major role in contributing to the final picture.

In the past the concept of unmanned combat aircraft was always the domain of science fiction. Now, it seems, it is very close to becoming a reality – in fact, it has already happened. On June 30, the very first AVE-D technology demonstrator took off for its maiden flight. The event was significant as it was the very first time a flight has been fully automated from start to end. The test flight took place near Toul in north-eastern France.

A small number of units are now ready to be produced as “technology demonstrator” aircraft – a way for new operational concepts to be explored more fully. The ultimate goal: autonomous stealth fighter aircraft which should hopefully reach production sometime between 2020 and 2025. If that seems a little far away, you may be happy to know that more nEUROn test flights will most likely be conducted in Sweden, France and Italy in just two year’s time. The implications of such an aircraft are undoubtedly huge – now only time will tell if this technology will be put to good use.