ROME ― The first European-built medium-altitude, long-endurance drone has flown in Italy using satellite navigation and data links provided by a European satellite, its manufacturers said.
The Piaggio P.1HH, which has hitherto made test flights using line-of-sight navigation, flew out of Trapani airport in Sicily using satellite navigation provided by the Athena-Fidus satellite.
The linkup was provided by Italian satellite services company Telespazio, which is 67 percent controlled by Italy’s Leonardo and 33 percent by Thales. Athena Fidus is managed from Telespazio’s space center in Fucino, Italy.
The test comes as Europe is showing more interest in homegrown satellite navigation for drones, which is considered crucial to developing an autonomous UAV able to fly without GPS.
The long awaited “EuroMALE” drone, to be built by Airbus, Dassault and Leonardo, will fly using Europe’s new Galileo satellite system for navigation, Defense News reported earlier this month — even if it will initially also use GPS as a backup. Leonardo said it used the P.1HH as a “test bed” to trial its satellite navigation technology, which could be used to support “European standardization and regulatory activities in the drone sector.”
Although based in Italy, Piaggio Aerospace is owned by Mubadala Development Company, an Abu Dhabi-based strategic investment and development company.
In 2016, the United Arab Emirates ordered eight P.1HH aircraft and expects the first delivery by the end of this year.
On Friday, Leonardo said Telespazio was also teaming with Italy’s civil air traffic control authority ENAV to develop an air traffic control system for drones, which would handle preflight planning, flight surveillance, emergency management and flight data recording.
Italy has passed laws to allow drone flights in prearranged airspace corridors, but is now looking at integrating UAVs in regular airspace.
Telespazio will contribute satellite navigation know-how while Leonardo will act as integrator, the latter firm said in a statement.
Leonardo predicted that 400,000 commercial drones will be flying in Europe by 2035.