Eurocopter has flown an “optionally piloted vehicle” (OPV) – an EC145 – in a validation flight that included deployment of an external sling load and undertaking a representative observation mission.
Following the success of the flight, Eurocopter will now pursue OPV flight capabilities for its product line of light, medium and heavy-lift helicopters – enabling them to be flown by pilots or in an unmanned mode.
“This latest achievement results from our company’s expertise in flight control and autopilot systems, human-machine interface, system architecture and integration,” Eurocopter chief technical officer Jean-Brice Dumont said about the validation.
The flight used a four-dimensional flightplan that was uploaded to the helicopter. After an automatic takeoff, the EC145 flew the circuit via multiple pre-programmed waypoints, during which it 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.
Visibility during the EC145’s unmanned flights was provided to the ground station via onboard cameras. They were complemented by an external gimballed camera on the helicopter for infrared and daylight mission imaging.
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