Airbus tests its multi-mission "cargo copter"
The "cargo copter" functioned in a dense robotic environment, demonstrating the concept's applicability - notably its modular design allowing easy, flexible, and quick swap-out of payloads and batteries.
A sub-scale demonstration of a future Airbus multi-mission unmanned aerial vehicle exhibited its capabilities last month during a large robotic exercise organised by the Portuguese Navy and NATO, which brought together military forces, universities, and selected industrial partners.
By participating in this exercise, the "cargo copter" functioned in a dense robotic environment, demonstrating the concept's applicability - notably its modular design allowing easy, flexible, and quick swap-out of payloads and batteries.
Airbus' UAS New Programmes group worked with the company's X-Works rapid prototyping unit to develop the demonstrator. A system-of-systems strategy was used to meet military mission needs ranging from cargo transportation and ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) activities to operating as a communications relay and a combat force multiplier.
It was validated in highly realistic operational settings during the REP(MUS)2022 military exercise, which took place in Portugal's Troia Peninsula region from September 12 to September 23. REP(MUS)2022 brought together around 1,500 individuals to test the coordination of unmanned systems and experimental mission scenarios above, on, and under the sea.
A challenging environment during REP(MUS)2022
"This was a great opportunity to trial our small-scale demonstrator in realistic conditions," explains Jens Federhen, who leads the X-Works rapid prototyping team. "Performing the demonstrations in such a demanding environment – surrounded by six research ships, 11 warships and 120 uncrewed systems around us – was extremely challenging, and at the same time very productive, as we have been able to learn and create useful collaboration links."
A 35-kg vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) multicopter serves as the sub-scale demonstration for the upcoming Airbus Multi-Mission and Transport UAS. The "cargo copter" is designed to carry a variety of payloads and is equipped with the Airbus-developed DeckFinder all-purpose landing assist for autonomous landings on ship decks.
Valuable guidance for the next step
According to Johannes Pittermann, UAS PORTFOLIO MANAGER and REP(MUS)2022 PROJECT MANAGER, Airbus' participation also helped to answer some open questions for the multi-mission cargo drone's full-scale concept, providing valuable guidance in follow-on design and development work.
For the full-scale version, Airbus UAS New Programmes envisions a drone capable of carrying payloads of more than 250 kg payload over a range of 300-plus km. Beyond the military applications, Airbus foresees a role for the Airbus Multi-Mission and Transport UAS in civilian use for, e.g. humanitarian and/ or disaster/crisis management.