The Airbus name might be more well known for people-carrying aircraft, but Airbus Defence and Space is looking to develop unmanned aircraft for series production through its Sagitta project too. Towards that goal, an unmanned jet-propelled demonstrator has made first flight test, flying autonomously on a pre-determined course for around seven minutes.

Airbus has developed the Sagitta demonstrator UAV alongside the Technical University of Munich, Germany's University of the Federal Armed Forces in Munich, the University of Applied Sciences, the Technical University in Chemnitz, the Ingolstadt University of Applied Sciences and the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

At the moment, it's just a 25 percent-scale demonstrator with a 3-m (9.8-ft) wingspan, 3-m length, and a maximum takeoff weight of 150 kg (330.7 lb). The typical fixed-wing shape of the aircraft was chosen because it offers a small radar cross section, while the lack of intake scoops and rough edges reportedly allows the aircraft to fly upside down without trouble.

Its airframe is made of carbon fiber composite, and, with the exception of the brakes, the flight systems are all controlled by electromechanical actuators instead of hydraulic components.

These considerations are all high on the list of priorities for military users. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) like the Sagitta are becoming increasingly popular in military circles, both for their ability to do the job of a conventional plane without the risk to human life, and because they open the door for new types of missions.

"With SAGITTA's first flight, we have proved just how successful a cooperation between industry and academic partners can be in the area of basic research," says Grazia Vittadini, Head of Engineering at Airbus Defence and Space. "We are increasingly shifting our focus towards these kinds of innovative concepts, in particular for the development of UAVs, so that we can develop products quickly and efficiently for a growing market."

The flight test, conducted over a test site in Overberg, South Africa, marks the end of the first test phase, which also included extensive ground tests.

Source: Airbus, DLR