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In Details: VSR700 VTOL UAV - The Likely Future Unmanned Helicopter of the French Navy
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VSR700 VTOL UAV Airbus Helicopters DCNS French Navy Marine Nationale Paris Air Show 2017 1
At Paris Air Show 2017 held last week, Airbus Helicopter was showcasing for the first time an actual size model of its VSR700 vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). VSR700 standing for Vertivision Surveillance Rotorcraft 700 is the expected future VTOL UAV of the French Navy (Marine Nationale). Airbus Helicopters and French shipbuilding group DCNS joined forces for the SDAM (Système de Drones Aériens de la Marine) program. The program which hasn't officially been launched yet calls for the procurement of tactical VTOL UAV for the future FTI mid-size frigates.
 
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Focus - Airbus Helicopters VSR700 VTOL UAV
 
 
 
 
In Details: VSR700 VTOL UAV - The Likely Future Unmanned Helicopter of the French Navy
 
By Xavier Vavasseur - Chief Editor
At Paris Air Show 2017 held last week, Airbus Helicopter was showcasing for the first time an actual size model of its VSR700 vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). VSR700 standing for Vertivision Surveillance Rotorcraft 700 is the expected future VTOL UAV of the French Navy (Marine Nationale). Airbus Helicopters and French shipbuilding group DCNS joined forces for the SDAM (Système de Drones Aériens de la Marine) program. The program which hasn't officially been launched yet calls for the procurement of tactical VTOL UAV for the future FTI mid-size frigates.
     
VSR700 VTOL UAV Airbus Helicopters DCNS French Navy Marine Nationale Paris Air Show 2017 1The VSR700 VTOL UAV showcased for the first time by Airbus Helicopters at Paris Air Show 2017.
     
The VSR-700 is a light military rotary-wing tactical unmanned aerial vehicle derived from the Cabri G2, an existing civil certified 2-seater piston engine helicopter designed and manufactured by Hélicoptères Guimbal. According to Airbus Helicopters, the Cabri G2 provides a solid baseline for evolving to a military certification. Similarly, the avionics suite and flight control system are derived from existing Airbus Helicopters components. The VSR700 will be capable of carrying a wide array of mission equipment thanks to a maximum payload capacity up to 250 kg.

DCNS’s role in the partnership (which was announced at Euronaval 2016) is to design and supply the entire warship-integrated VTOL drone system. DCNS designs and develops the solutions for the ship-based operation and integration of the drone, including the specification and validation of the payloads and mission data links. DCNS will also produce the drone’s mission system, which will enable real-time management of its operations and allow its payloads to be controlled through the combat management system.
     
VSR700 VTOL UAV Airbus Helicopters DCNS French Navy Marine Nationale Paris Air Show 2017 2VSR700 ASW module by Thales (sonobuyos launcher for ASW missions).
     
VSR 700 missions
The main mission of the VSR700 is ISTAR (Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) which aims to survey, and assess targets in a given zone with high performance day / night cameras and maritime radar. Other missions are possible depending on the payload. At Paris Air Show, Airbus Helicopters was showcasing the VSR700 with a wide range of optional payload equipment such as an ASW module by Thales (sonobuyos launcher for ASW missions), RFD search and rescuse raft by Survitec (for SAR missions), Euroflir 410 EO system by Safran, MX-15 EO system by L-3 Wescam, Flat AESA radar array by Thales and a long range acoustic device LRAD 450XL by exavision.
     
VSR700 VTOL UAV Airbus Helicopters DCNS French Navy Marine Nationale Paris Air Show 2017 3Sea trials of a manned Cabri G2 with French Navy Horizon-class air defence frigate Forbin. French Navy picture courtesy of Airbus Helicopters.
     
During Paris Air Show 2017, Airbus Helicopters announced that it recently started autonomous flight trials of a VSR700 Optionally Piloted Vehicle (OPV) demonstrator, paving the way for a first flight of the actual VSR700 prototype in 2018.

“We are pleased to have achieved this milestone only eight months after starting work on the OPV” said Regis Antomarchi, head of the VSR700 programme at Airbus Helicopters. “The OPV is able to autonomously take-off, hover and perform stabilized flight and maneuvers. It will help us mature the technologies associated to autonomous flight and confirm the suitability of the Cabri G2 platform for the VSR700, ahead of the first flight of the prototype next year”, he added.

This phase of flight trials with a safety pilot will focus on refining Airbus Helicopters’ automatic flight control system aboard the OPV, eventually leading to fully autonomous flights without a safety pilot. The VSR 700 flight control system is a fully-digital, multi-channel system with a very high level of redundancy. It takes advantage of Airbus Helicopters unique expertise in digital autopilots.
     
VSR700 VTOL UAV Airbus Helicopters DCNS French Navy Marine Nationale Paris Air Show 2017 4Sea trials of a manned Cabri G2 with French Navy Horizon-class air defence frigate Forbin. French Navy picture courtesy of Airbus Helicopters.
     
Seat Trials with French Navy
Sea trials of a manned Cabri G2 have also recently taken place with the support of the French Navy Horizon-class air defence frigate Forbin. These trials were conducted in order to assess the flight envelope of the VSR700 platform for shipborne operations.
     
VSR700 VTOL UAV Airbus Helicopters DCNS French Navy Marine Nationale Paris Air Show 2017 5Airbus Helicopters believes its VSR700 is the right size to answer the needs of most navies.
     
VSR700 compared to Camcpoter and MQ-8C
According to Airbus Helicopters, the VSR700 has a much lower operating cost than a helicopter as it requires fewer resources and less manpower, combined with a low fuel consuming Diesel engine. A company representative told Navy Recognition "We believe VSR700 hits the sweet spot for most navies needs: It offers more payload and endurance than the Camcopter, yet it will be more affordable to procure and operate compared to an MQ-8C Firescout".

The S-100 Camcopter (MTO weight 200 Kg) has an endurance of 6 hours with a 34 kg payload (source: Schiebel). The MQ-8C Firescout (MTO weight 2,700 Kg) has an endurance of 12 hours with a 136 Kg payload (source: Navair). In comparison, the VSR700 with its MTO weight of 760 Kg sports a 10 hours endurance with a 100 Kg payload.

Airbus Helicopters achieves these impressive performances (endurance and payload capacity close to the much much heavier MQ-8C) thanks to the use of a very fuel efficient diesel engine. Diesel fuel has the other notable advantage to be a much safer and stable fuel to store aboard a surface vessel.
     
VSR700 VTOL UAV Airbus Helicopters DCNS French Navy Marine Nationale Paris Air Show 2017 6Sea trials of a manned Cabri G2 with French Navy Horizon-class air defence frigate Forbin. French Navy picture courtesy of Airbus Helicopters.
     
What's Next ?
Autonomous flight testing having already taken place on a modified Cabri G2, the next setp is the first flight without a safety pilot aboard. This is set for the end of 2017. Next year the 1st VSR700 prototype will start its flight testing. Military certification and serial production is expected for 2019. Finally, the first deliveries are planned for 2020, well in time for the delivery of the first FTI mid-size frigate (expected for 2023).

VSR700 Perfromance and Technical Specifications

MTO Weight 760 Kg (1676 lb)
Length 6.2 m
Rotor diameter 7.2 m
Height 2.28 m
Endurance >10 hours @ 100 kg payload
Payload Dual payload (EO/IR) Radar or COMINT
Max speed @SL@MTOW 101 kts (187 km/h)
Ceiling 20,000 ft
Propulsion Heavy fuel engine 155 hp turbo charged
Fuel capacity 296 L (+70 L as option)
Max wind for take off & landing 60 kt (31 m/s)
     
VSR700 VTOL UAV Airbus Helicopters DCNS French Navy Marine Nationale Paris Air Show 2017 7Sea trials of a manned Cabri G2 with French Navy Horizon-class air defence frigate Forbin. French Navy picture courtesy of Airbus Helicopters.