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BAE Unveils Taranis Stealthy UCAV

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First Flights of UK-built Taranis Unmanned Aircraft Surpass All Expectations

(Source: BAE Systems; issued Feb 05, 2014)

Today, BAE Systems finally took the wraps off its Taranis UCAV demonstrator, which has been flying since August 2013 and which the company says exceeded all expectations. (BAE photo)

LONDON, United Kingdom --- The UK Ministry of Defence (UK MOD) and BAE Systems have revealed that Taranis, the stealthy unmanned combat vehicle demonstrator and the most advanced aircraft ever built by British engineers, surpassed all expectations during its first flight trials last year.

Taranis, named after the Celtic god of thunder, made its maiden flight at an undisclosed test range on Saturday 10th August 2013, under the command of BAE Systems’ test pilot Bob Fraser. The demonstrator aircraft made a perfect take-off, rotation, ‘climb-out’ and landing on its 15 minute first flight. A number of flights took place last year, of up to one hour in duration and at a variety of altitudes and speeds. The details were revealed at a briefing held in London today.

The Taranis demonstrator is the result of one-and-a-half-million man hours of work by the UK’s leading scientists, aerodynamicists and systems engineers from 250 UK companies. The aircraft has been designed to demonstrate the UK’s ability to create a unmanned air system 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.

The findings from the aircraft’s flight prove that the UK has developed a significant lead in understanding unmanned aircraft which could strike with precision over a long range whilst remaining undetected. The technological advances made through Taranis will also help the UKMOD and Royal Air Force make decisions on the future mix of manned and unmanned fast jet aircraft and how they will operate together in a safe and effective manner for the UK’s defences.

(Taranis first flight video footage by BAE Systems)

Costing £185 million and funded jointly by the UK MOD and UK industry, the Taranis demonstrator aircraft was formally unveiled in July 2010 but only a very limited number of scientists and engineers have ever been given full access to the top secret aircraft. Initial ‘power-up’ or ground testing commenced later in 2010 at BAE Systems’ military aircraft factory in Warton, Lancashire followed by a comprehensive and highly detailed programme of pre-first flight milestones including unmanned pilot training, radar cross section measurements, ground station system integration and, in April 2013 taxi trials on the runway at Warton.

The aircraft and its ground station were then shipped from Warton to the test-range before being re-assembled and undergoing systems and diagnostics checks. Taranis then made a number of high speed taxi tests in July before its maiden flight in August 2013.

Philip Dunne, Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology said:

"Taranis is providing vital insights that will help shape future capabilities for our Armed Forces in coming decades. Its advanced technology is testament to the UKs world leading engineering skills that keep Britain at the cutting edge of defence."

Like Taranis, the other two UCAV technology demonstrators being tested in NATO countries (Dassault’s Neuron, left, and Northrop’s X-47B, right) have adopted a flying wing layout, with prominent humps on the upper surfaces. Air intakes and engine exhausts, however, differ notably. (Dassault and US Navy photos)

Commenting on behalf of the industry team, Nigel Whitehead, Group Managing Director of BAE Systems added: “The first flight of Taranis represents a major landmark for UK aviation. The demonstrator is the most advanced air system ever conceived, designed and built in the UK. It truly represents an evolution of everything that has come before it. This milestone confirms the UK's leading position as a centre for engineering excellence and innovation.”

About the size of a BAE Systems Hawk aircraft - Taranis has been designed and built by BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, the Systems division of GE Aviation (formerly Smiths Aerospace) and QinetiQ working alongside UK MOD military staff and scientists.

In addition to prime contracting the project, BAE Systems led on many elements of the Taranis technology demonstrator, including the low observability, systems integration, control infrastructure and full autonomy elements (in partnership with QinetiQ). (ends)

Taranis Advanced Technology Demonstrator: Frequently Asked Questions

(Source: BAE Systems; issued Feb 05, 2014)

Q. When was the contract placed for Taranis and for how much?
The joint funded contract was placed in December 2006. Originally valued at £124.5M, the contract has been uplifted under separate approvals to £185M, and extended to accommodate an additional programme of work with a wider scope. This has utilised the Taranis air vehicle to provide further outputs with wider exploitation into manned fast jet aircraft and includes additional risk mitigation activities to enable full realisation of the programme objectives.

Q. How big is Taranis?
About the size of a BAE Systems Hawk which is approx 12 m in length with a wingspan of 10 m.

Q. When did Taranis first fly?
The first flight of Taranis took place on 10th August, 2013 and lasted approximately 15 minutes.

Q. Where did it fly?
We can’t disclose the location for security reasons, but Team Taranis ensured that the most appropriate test-ranges were used for the flight trials. The flight trials did not take place in the UK, but were conducted in safe designated test areas under close supervision. (It has been widely reported that Taranis flight tests are carried out at the Woomera test range in South Australia, an isolated location whose access is simple to control.—Ed)

Q. Who was in control of the flight?
The flight was overseen by the Mission Commander Bob Fraser. Bob had some 24 years’ service with the RAF, where he had a distinguished career flying a wide range of military aircraft, before joining BAE Systems in 2000.

Q. When did Final Assembly commence?
Final assembly of the Taranis technology demonstrator commenced in December 2008.

Q. Can you provide an example scenario of how Taranis could be employed?
Taranis has integrated world-leading stealth technologies, propulsion systems and the next generation mission systems, all of which have direct relevance to the next generation of military aerospace capabilities.

Taranis was designed to demonstrate our ability to create a system capable of undertaking sustained surveillance, marking targets, gathering intel, deterring adversaries and carrying out strikes in hostile territory.

Q. Why all the secrecy over the shape and design of the vehicle?

From the outset, Taranis has been designed to utilise the most advanced means possible of achieving low observability, this includes both the systems and technology inside the aircraft as well as the shape, design and finish of the exterior of the aircraft. This does mean that there are aspects of the exterior design of the aircraft which remain classified.

Q. Does Taranis use the same control system as the Mantis technology demonstrator?
The Taranis programme brings together a number of technologies, capabilities and systems to produce a technology demonstrator based around an intelligent system and builds on proven systems and control technology designed, built and tested successfully in other BAE Systems unmanned platforms such as Corax, Raven, HERTI and Mantis.

Q. How many hours have been involved in building the demonstrator so far?
More than one and a half million hours have been invested in the Programme to date.

Q. How fast/high/long will the Taranis technology demonstrator fly for?
This information is classified, but clearly in order to fulfil the missions set for it, Taranis needs to demonstrate performance levels that deliver on speed, reliability and survivability.