Stemme and S-Plane partner to develop optionally piloted aircraft


Germany’s Stemme AG and South Africa’s S-Plane Automation have agreed to integrate S-Plane subsystems into the Ecarys ES15 aircraft to create an Optionally Piloted Vehicle (OPV).

The agreement was announced on 19 February to coincide with the opening of the International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) 2017 in Abu Dhabi.

The companies said a comprehensive solution will be created, including the Ground Control Station, suitable for a variety of mission profiles.

Ecarys is a wholly owned Stemme subsidiary and specialises in providing platforms for aerial surveillance, reconnaissance and scientific research missions. The new optionally piloted aircraft is a Stemme product, directly supported by the company as the original equipment manufacturer and will be powered by S-Plane avionics and ground control station. S-Plane said the aircraft is expected to be of wide interest.

An OPV combines the benefits of a manned aircraft with those of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). As a manned aircraft, the OPV can execute missions that demand human judgement and control, such as flight in civil airspace, flight over congested areas, flying at low level and transporting passengers. When the pilot is removed from the cockpit the system can perform unmanned missions which require extreme endurance or are more dangerous to perform.

These include critical infrastructure protection and surveillance, border and maritime patrol, cargo delivery, firefighting and hazardous materials containment.

The Ecarys ES15 has a 770 lb (350 kg) payload capacity and a 1 350 nm (2 500 km) range. Its low radar and minimal infrared signature make it an ideal platform for surveillance missions, Stemme and S-Plane said. High bandwidth line-of-sight links provide real-time payload video at the ground control station while beyond-line-of-sight operation is enabled via satellite links.

The ES15 OPV can operate completely autonomously with a remote pilot being able to take control of the aircraft and payloads at any time.

The Stemme ASP S15 motor-glider has been used by Sagem to create the Patroller unmanned aerial vehicle

S-Plane recently partnered with South African company Ultimate Unmanned to launch the Viper 1000C optionally piloted UAV, which is based on the Stemme S15 motor-glider. Ultimate Unmanned exhibited for the first time at the Africa Aerospace and Defence exhibition in September 2016 where it launched its UAV business.

Endurance of the Viper is 28 hours with external and internal extended endurance tanks. Multiple payload options include high definition cameras, forward looking infrared systems and night vision systems. For the Viper, S-Plane provided its Paragon command and control system as well as automation avionic and ground systems.

Also during Africa Aerospace and Defence 2016 S-Plane launched its XKIT automation solution, which converts an existing manned aircraft into an optionally piloted vehicle.

S-Plane was established in 2008 and specialises in optionally piloted vehicles and unmanned aerial vehicles and their navigation, flight control and mission management subsystems, including ground support elements. All software is developed in-house and all hardware is manufactured in South Africa. Product and development scope spans both the civil and military UAV markets, and also extends to autonomous land, sea-surface and underwater vehicles and their subsystems.

In addition to manufacturing control systems and software, S-Plane has built two UAVs: the Swift and Nightingale.