AeroVironment, Eurocopter eye cooperation

Oct. 25, 2013 at 12:22 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 25 (UPI) -- AeroVironment, the U.S. manufacturer of unmanned aerial vehicles, and Eurocopter have agreed to explore business opportunities for their respective products.

The cooperative accord was announced this week at the annual Association of the U.S. Army conference and exhibition in Washington and follows urging from industry and government in Europe for the development and manufacture of European unmanned aerial systems.

"EADS Cassidian, Dassault Aviation and Finmeccanica Alenia Aermacchi, having a common view on the current situation in Europe regarding MALE [medium altitude long-endurance] drones, call for the launch of a European MALE program," the European companies said in a joint statement earlier this year.

"Such a joint program would support the capability needs of European armed forces while optimizing the difficult budgetary situation through pooling of research and development funding,

"EADS Cassidian, Dassault Aviation and Finmeccanica Alenia Aermacchi declare their readiness to coordinate on such a program supporting the security needs of our European governments and armed forces," they said.

The statement from AeroVironment and Eurocopter on Tuesday did not specifically say cooperation would be on unmanned aerial vehicles, but comments on it by executives from both companies left little doubt.

"AeroVironment's extensive operational UAS experience in delivering to end-users reliable solutions working effectively in harsh operating environments makes us uniquely positioned to understand customers' requirements and to determine future market trends," said Clive Schley, Eurocopter's senior vice president, strategy and company development. "This cooperation will be particularly valuable as Eurocopter defines its unmanned product strategy, building on the success of our first unmanned flights with the EC145 helicopter this year."

"The combination of AeroVironment's market leading unmanned technology and unique knowledge with Eurocopter's world-class helicopter and systems expertise makes a formidable team," said Roy Minson, senior vice president and general manager of AeroVironment's Unmanned Aircraft Systems business segment. "This cooperative agreement creates the opportunity for both companies to explore expanding into new markets and developing new capabilities to meet future customer needs."

Eurocopter's EC145 is a twin-engine light utility helicopter and was introduced into service in 2002. It has a cruise speed of 153 mph.

Eurocopter began developing an optionally piloted variant in 2011 -- it can operate automatically or be controlled by a pilot on the ground or aboard the aircraft. Its capabilities were demonstrated in a demonstration this year which involved unmanned flying in various scenarios.

AeroVironment developed the first hand-launched unmanned aircraft for military surveillance in 1987. The U.S. military has since used AeroVironment's family of electric-powered aircraft extensively for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

Additional details on the cooperative agreement were not given.

The European focus on unmanned aerial systems is primarily in regard to large, medium-altitude, long-endurance aircraft such as the Grey Eagle and Predator by U.S. manufacturers. EADS, Eurocopter's parent company, is currently developing the Talon medium-altitude, long-endurance with Turkish Aerospace Industries. Another EADS subsidiary, Cassidian, makes small unmanned aircraft systems.

In other developments related to unmanned aerial systems, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has given Aurora Flight Sciences a $2.8 million contract to design, develop and demonstrate a medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial system and related technologies for UAS launch, recovery and other operations from U.S. Navy ships.

The company, headquartered in Manassas, Va., said it will leverage autonomous flight technology it developed for its Orion and Centaur aircraft for the project, which is called TERN -- tactically exploited reconnaissance node.

"Aurora's TERN solution would be a disruptive technology capable of transforming how the U.S. Navy conducts operations in the 21st century," said Dr. John S. Langford, Aurora's chief executive officer. "TERN would enable unmanned air vehicles with significant payload capabilities to operate from a large number of ships that do not have runways."

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