Hannah Bouckley — bt.com July 16, 2014
The UK’s most advanced aircraft – a high-tech drone called Taranis – has made its first flight in stealth mode, which means it’s virtually invisible to radar.
Taranis – named after the Celtic god of thunder – is an unmanned combat air vehicle, or drone.
Developed by BAE Systems and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) it successfully completed the second phase of flight tests, which included a demonstration of its stealth capabilities.
In order to fly in stealth mode, engineers had to tweak the vehicles design, including removing the air data boom from the nose and altering the antennas. A special high-tech communication system was built to ensure its position isn’t revealed to potential enemies.
Philip Dunne, minister for defence equipment, support and technology, hailed the importance of the tests: “We are gaining vital insights into the potential of unmanned aircraft and this knowledge will shape future capabilities and help reduce the risks faced by military personnel on the frontline.”
The product of 1.5 million man hours by scientists, aerodynamicists and systems engineers from 250 companies around the UK, Taranis was initially unveiled in 2010. It undertook its maiden flight in August 2013, but because of the sensitive nature details were only revealed in February.
Taranis isn’t designed to see combat, according to BAE Systems. Instead it’s been built to demonstrate how the UK can create a drone which “under the control of a human operator, is capable of undertaking sustained surveillance, marking targets, gathering intelligence, deterring adversaries and carrying out strikes in hostile territory”.
Engineering data gained from the recent trials will be used to advance Taranis’s stealth capabilities even further, with the long-term goal of helping the MoD and Royal Air Force make decisions on how unmanned and manned aircraft can work together.
Going forward, European collaboration on drone development looks to be key. At the Farnborough Air Show, BAE Systems and Dassault Aviation revealed a £120 million two-year deal between the British and French governments to co-operate on future drone technology.