Technicians prepare the Barracuda UAV technology testbed for a flight at Goose Bay, Canada. (EADS)
LONDON — European defense group EADS Cassidian is considering a further bout of test flights for its Barracuda unmanned aerial system following completion of the latest group of sorties from Goose Bay military airfield in eastern Canada.
The stealthy, turbofan-powered vehicle has the role of gathering technical experience for operationally mature next-generation UAVs and minimizing risk in developing them.
Europe has lagged behind the United States and Israel in producing high-technology UAVs, and Barracuda is regarded as an important steppingstone in closing this gap.
The UAV undertook five flights of up to 50 minutes each in June and July in the third batch of flights to be held at Goose Bay in recent years.
As in previous test campaigns, the Barracuda flew autonomously along programmed flight profiles, including auto-taxiing.
The latest flights aimed to expand Barracuda’s flight envelope, flying in tandem with an accompanying Learjet simulating another UAV. The two aircraft flew missions where each had different roles that were autonomously synchronized with one another.
For the first time, the Barracuda flew with a network-capable data link. This was configurable during flight and could relay data from the Learjet to the ground control station. Although the roles for both aircraft were predefined, the two planes missions could be adapted by uploading new mission data via the data link while the aircraft were in the mission zone.
Flight test engineers uploaded not only new individual waypoints but also entire mission segments from the ground station to the UAV in flight. Within the mission area, “time over target” had to be executed by real-time adaptation of the flight path for both aircraft.
Information gathered from the test flights will help advance work on flying several networked UAVs, Cassidian said.
Although the Learjet was manned, the Barracuda’s flight guidance system was integrated into the business jet, providing steering commands to the latter’s flight director display. Those commands were then followed by the Learjet pilot, simulating a second Barracuda.
The Barracuda and Learjet had “different role profiles that were autonomously coordinated,” Cassidian said. This meant that the missions were only partly preplanned, with Barracuda taking on reconnaissance and target illumination and the Learjet providing surveillance.
Barracuda is designed as a technology test bed with a modular structure and a flexible configuration, enabling developers to test a variety of systems and flight profiles and demonstrate a range of mission requirements. The UAV can carry electro-optical and infrared sensors, laser target designators, an emitter locator system and advanced synthetic aperture radar.
Any future test flights will look at further network integration and autoflight capabilities, the company said.