However, pilots may be reluctant to trust the notion that technology can beat human ability.
“After some trials they will start to be convinced,” he says. “It is clearly our goal to offer the same system for [manned] helicopters in the future for safer operations.”
Initial flight trials of the D2AD system started in early 2011 using a helium balloon and light aircraft with a platform modeling the ship. Landings in unprepared areas were conducted over the following summer, “just to show there could be some army configurations,” Stock says.
D2AD was also tested with the Unmanned Little Bird in the U.S., with landings on a three-axis motion platform simulating a moving deck and on a trailer towed by a truck at 5-15 kt. to represent a ship under way.
Although sea trials involved a nearly 2,000-kg (4,400-lb.) aircraft, Legros says D2AD can be installed on all types of VTOL UAVs equipped with the harpoon. “We're not integrating into the flight-control software, therefore integration is only a matter of a week or so,” Legros says, adding that installing the sensors and software onboard the Lafayette frigate took four weeks. “[It was] very easy, and very safe.”
Stock says the next step could involve integrating the D2AD system in a smaller UAS for DGA, such as the Austrian Schiebel S-100 Camcopter, which has been used in sea trials for the French and other navies.
“At the moment we anticipate that what the navies in France and the U.K. are looking for is a slightly smaller helicopter of the [1,000-kg] class,” he says.
While the D2AD project is aimed at reducing risk for a future French navy UAS program called SDAMA (for Systeme de Drones Aeriens de la Marine), it could benefit the U.K. defense ministry's planned Rotary-Wing Unmanned Aircraft System (RWUAS) “concept capability demonstration.” When announced in July, a contract for the two-year project was slated to be awarded in January.
As described, the RWUAS demonstration “will inform future maritime UAS requirements, potentially leading to an acquisition program in the second decade,” according to the defense ministry's announcement. The project will involve physical demonstrations and simulation experiments with a VTOL UAS to “assess platform integration issues and the impact . . . of bringing an RWUAS into service.”