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Britain Releases News on Secret Aircraft's Test Flight

Feb. 5, 2014 - 04:52PM   |  
By ANDREW CHUTER   |   Comments
Taranis first flight footage
Taranis first flight footage: Taranis, the stealthy unmanned combat vehicle demonstrator, filmed during its initial flight trials. It's the most advanced aircraft ever built in the UK. BAE Systems video
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BAE Systems has released photos of last year's test flight of its secretive Taranis unmanned combat aerial vehicle demonstrator. / BAE Systems

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LONDON — Britain partially lifted the veil of secrecy surrounding its Taranis unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) program Wednesday by confirming a first flight last year and releasing pictures in flight of the demonstrator.

The UK Defence Ministry and Taranis program leader BAE Systems said the flight, which took place in August, lasted for about 15 minutes and “surpassed all expectations.”

The release of news on UCAV’s progress follows the British and French governments’ announcement Friday that they are continuing cooperation on examining the feasibility of developing a joint UCAV.

The two sides announced a £120 million (US $195 million) feasibility study led by BAE and French counterpart Dassault Aviation into UCAVs, built on work the two sides have pursued together.

A spokeswoman for BAE said elements of the Taranis test program would be fed into joint work with the French.

France is already leading a group of European nations in a similar UCAV demonstrator program known as Neuron.

British Defence Procurement Minister Philip Dunne said Taranis is “providing vital insights that will help shape future capabilities for our armed forces in the coming decades.”

Military chiefs here have said a UCAV could become part of the British military lineup around 2030.

Little information has been released about the test flight program. The initial test was followed by subsequent test missions of up to an hour in duration.

A new phase of test flights is underway, and talks on continuing the demonstrator’s airborne activities this year are underway between the parties involved.

Project costs have grown from the initial £124 million budgeted at the time of the 2006 launch of the program to today’s figure of £185 million. The cost growth resulted from significant project delays and increases in the scope of the work.

“The demonstrator is the most advanced air system ever conceived, designed and built in the UK,” said Nigel Whitehead, group managing director at BAE.

About the size of a Hawk trainer jet, Taranis is funded jointly by the MoD and industry partners BAE, Rolls-Royce, GE Aviation and QinetiQ.

The British partners declined to say where the flights took place, but it has been widely reported the site used is the Woomera test range in Australia.

The MoD originally slipped out the fact the Taranis had flown in documents provided to the Parliament’s Defence Committee and published late last year. ■

Email: achuter@defensenews.com.

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