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Testing begins at BAE on East Lancashire-built unmanned aeroplanes
TESTING has begun in East Lancashire in preparation for the maiden flight of BAE Systems first unmanned aircraft.
The defence giant, which employs thousands in Samlesbury and Warton, is using a Jetstream aircraft known as ‘The Flying Test Bed’, to try out new ‘visual sense-and-avoid’ technology for the flight of the Uninhabited Air Vehicle later in the year.
The company is currently developing two aircraft, the Taranis, an unmanned combat demonstrator, named after a Celtic god, and Mantis, a medium altitude long endurance concept unmanned air vehicle.
The planes are a similar size to the BAE Hawk training jet.
During tests across the Irish Sea and through UK air space, pilots will be on-board the Jetstreams, but they can take their hands off the controls and hand it over to the racks of computers and control systems in the aircraft's rear.
Components for the new technology, part of a programme known as ASTRAEA, are made at Samlesbury and materials testing is also undertaken there.
The announcement comes as the designs for the unmanned aircraft are shown off at this week’s Farnborough International Airshow.
Lambert Dopping-Hepenstal, of BAE Systems, said: “The ASTRAEA system is capable of preventing mid-air collisions with other aircraft using a ‘sense and avoid’ system, detecting and avoiding bad weather conditions and relaying air traffic control instructions to the remote pilot via satellite to the ground control station.
“The weather avoidance system will use sophisticated image processing techniques to detect and avoid clouds and is just one of the new capabilities being tested onboard the Jetstream.”
The trials will be used to demonstrate to regulators, such as the Civil Air Authority and air traffic control service providers, the progress made towards achieving the safe use of UAVs in UK airspace.
If successful, unmanned planes in the UK could be used for tasks like search-and-rescue operations, surveillance and coastal patrols.
BAE has previously said it would not be seeking funding for production, or taking orders, until trials have been completed.
But if it proves popular with potential buyers, it would be a massive jobs boost for Lancashire.
Warton, near Lytham, remains the main BAE site for the development, design and construction of the aircraft.
Boeing’s Phantom Ray UAV demonstrator made its first test flight last year in America.
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