Weighing just three kilogrammes, the UAV built by a team from Southampton University, launched off the bow of the HMS Mersey. The unmanned vehicle only travelled 500 metres but effectively demonstrated the value of small, lightweight, UAVs launched at sea.
A team from Southampton University designed and built the aircraft from laser sintered nylon hence its light weight airframe and measures just 1.5 metres.
SULSA test launch of the prow of HMS Mersey - Image courtesy of Southampton University
The SULSA (Southampton University Laser Sintered Aircraft) was mounted with a small video camera to record the test flight which will be analysed with the rest of the flight telemetry collected from the control van that was stationed on the Weymouth coast for the flight.
Footage courtesy of Southampton University
The UAV was launched into the Wyke Regis Training Facility before landing on Chesil Beach.
The long term use of UAVs at sea depends on low cost, light weight and rugged airframes especially as conditions at sea might mean a drone is non-recoverable. Introducing a method of printing UAVs almost on demand dramatically reduces cost but saves space and improves operational flexibility.
Essentially it becomes less about protecting an expensive military asset and more about rapid deployment and intelligence gathering.
Called Project Triangle, the capability demonstration was led by Southampton researchers, making use of the coastal patrol and fisheries protection ship.
Capable of reaching a top speed of 58 miles per hour, the SULSA is produced in four parts and can be assembled without the use of tools further enhancing its field capabilities.
First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas has made the Royal Navy’s intentions surrounding the use of unmanned vehicles both airborne and seaborne very clear and has championed the Royal Navy’s involvement with Project Triangle. With his backing, and his connection with the University, resulted in the opportunity to use HMS Mersey for the test flight.
Admiral Zambellas said: ‘Radical advances in capability often start with small steps. The launch of a 3D-printed aircraft from HMS Mersey is a small glimpse into the innovation and forward thinking that is now embedded in our Navy’s approach.
‘It’s well known that our first squadron of remotely piloted aircraft have proven their worth in the Gulf, providing persistent airborne surveillance across huge areas of sea.’
There is no indications yet if this successful test flight will garner more funding but having the attention of the First Sea Lord won’t do the University’s chances any harm.
The Royal Navy are already making use of the Boeing owned Insitu ScanEagle drone and have recently extended the lease until 2017.
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