Although Airbus' passenger-carrying autonomous drones may still be years away from reality, that hasn't stopped the aerospace company from getting an autonomous helicopter off the ground. A demonstrator version of the VSR700 Optionally Piloted Vehicle (OPV) has recently made its first self-piloted test flights, with the first flight of the fully decked-out prototype set to take place next year.
In the flights that have taken place so far, the helicopter has successfully taken off/landed, hovered, and performed stabilized flight and maneuvers. A human "safety pilot" was in the cockpit in case the multi-channel automatic flight control system malfunctioned.
The VSR700 is being developed in a collaboration between Airbus Helicopters and Helicopteres Guimbal. The latter is the manufacturer of the existing Cabri G2 helicopter, which serves as the base from which the VSR700 is derived.
Capable of carrying a payload of up to 250 kg (551 lb) and able to stay airborne for at least 10 hours depending on the application, it is intended primarily for use by navies as a shipborne tactical unmanned aerial vehicle. That said, thanks to its various optical sensors and maritime/land radar, it could also find use in land-based military operations to carry out ISTAR (Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) missions.