Overberg Test Range hosts first flight of jet-propelled UAV


Airbus Defence and Space (ADS) used Denel’s Overberg Test Range (OTR) for the successful testing of a new aircraft type that will aid development of future unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for series production.

The unmanned jet-propelled demonstrator with the project name SAGITTA flew completely autonomously for around seven minutes over the test site in South Africa’s Southern Cape, on a pre-programmed course. The innovative flying-wing construction demonstrated excellent flight characteristics during the test according to an Airbus statement. This flight marked the successful completion of the first test phase, which included an extensive series of ground tests.

The demonstrator is the product of the ‘Open Innovation’/SAGITTA national initiative launched by Airbus in 2010. The project sees Airbus working with institutes from the technical universities of Munich and Chemnitz, the University of the Federal Armed Forces (Universität der Bundeswehr) in Munich, the Ingolstadt University of Applied Sciences and the German Aerospace Centre DLR to jointly develop advanced technologies for unmanned flight. The project started with a feasibility study of the flying-wing configuration.

Criteria for the design included a high degree of autonomy, variable mission profiles and low levels of perceptibility. To achieve this, the inter-institutional research team adopted approaches from academic and industrial research, developed these further and incorporated them into solutions for industrial application. Airbus facilitated continuous exchange between experts, doctoral students and developers during the development stage. Additionally, the company provided industrial facilities needed for integrating the technologies in the demonstrator at Airbus Defence and Space’s Military Air Systems Centre in Manching, Germany.
“With SAGITTA’s first flight, we proved how successful co-operation between industry and academic partners can be in the area of basic research,” said Grazia Vittadini, Head of Engineering at Airbus Defence and Space. “We are increasingly shifting our focus towards these types of innovative concepts, in particular for the development of UAVs, so we can develop products quickly and efficiently for a growing market.”

The SAGITTA research vehicle was constructed to a scale of 1:4 and measures 3mX3m. It is designed as a flying wing and is powered by two 300 Nm turbines. Its maximum take-off weight is 150 kg. The UAV’s stealth properties are primarily a result of its shape. The airframe is produced completely from carbon fibre composite (CFC) using new manufacturing processes. With the exception of the brakes, it is an “electronic flying device” controlled by electro-mechanical actuators instead of hydraulic components.

Even if the demonstrator isn’t a product destined for series production itself, Airbus Defence and Space and its development partners can use it to gain insights for new technologies in unmanned flight systems and to develop next-generation products to operational maturity.