QinetiQ has successfully trialled the UK’s first Crewed-Uncrewed-Teaming demonstration between a crewed aircraft and an autonomous jet drone, according to the company.

This flight trial is part of the UK’s Accelerating Air Autonomy Capability Experimentation (A3CE) R&D programme and is the culmination of a year’s planning and development activity by QinetiQ and Dstl that has seen a series of synthetic and flight de-risking trials, assessment and testing.

The trial – which took place in collaboration with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), the Royal Navy and the Air and Space Warfare Centre (ASWC) – saw a QinetiQ jet aircraft take off from Ministry of Defence (MOD) site Boscombe Down in Salisbury, while a modified Banshee Jet 80 drone was launched from the MOD Hebrides range, off the north-west coast of Scotland. Flying from Boscombe to the Hebrides, the aircraft soon gained control of the Banshee, with the drone receiving its orders from the aircraft before automatically conducting the mission assignment, flying at 350 knots.

The mission was completed not only by the live Banshee but also a number of digital Banshees within a live-virtual swarm, successfully acting in a co-ordinated manner.

The Banshee was equipped with QinetiQ’s Airborne Command and Control for Swarm Interoperable Missions (ACCSIOM) technology, which allows the drone to communicate with the crewed aircraft using the same messaging format as the standard NATO Link 16 datalink. The technology provides an airborne gateway which can receive and translate both long range and short range communications between drones while in-built safety systems can override the autonomy to ensure the drone stays at all times within a safe operating area.

The success of this trial demonstrates that the combination of Crewed and Uncrewed Teaming between current front line combat aircraft and next generation drones can be potentially achieved successfully with the existing combat air fleet, while offering the potential to increase combat capability in an affordable manner.

Alan Hart, Managing Director Science & Technology, QinetiQ said: “This transformative trial is a great example of collaboration and technology leadership in aviation defence capability, as we seek to meet the ever-changing requirements of those on the front line. It represents a significant advance. It represents a significant advance in developing technologies that will allow uncrewed systems to operate seamlessly with current aircraft, providing the basis for air operations for the next twenty years.”

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