The largest fully-autonomous Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) ever to be built in the UK has completed initial flight trials in Woomera, South Australia. Built by BAE Systems for the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) the Mantis is the company’s first genuine fly-by-wire, all-electric aircraft and is designed to execute its mission with a much-reduced need for human intervention by understanding and reacting to its environment. BAE said Mantis successfully completed a series of trials demonstrating its capabilities and the potential for large unmanned systems to carry out intelligence-gathering at long distances.
The Mantis's 20m (65.6 feet) wingspan is designed for deep penetration, long-range intelligence-gathering, but as it contains no hydraulics it can be easily dismantled to fit into a military transport aircraft, making it extremely deployable. The aircraft was designed to be a real workhorse with “plug and play” elements in the mission system and the ability to carry significant payloads in terms of sensors and, potentially, weaponry.
In a sector overflowing with acronyms, BAE prefers to refer to Mantis as an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) rather than a UAV. Its ability to fly itself throughout its entire mission, and its mission system, enables it to automatically detect and manage all target information. This is expected to increase operational effectiveness by allowing more focus on the mission without the usual concerns over vehicle control. It also reduces manpower requirements and the risk of accidents due to human error and the communications/data link requirements between the vehicle and the ground.
Mantis also shares a common UAS control infrastructure with other BAE Systems unmanned craft such as Taranis and HERTI and will fully integrate with the UK’s C4I infrastructure.
Chris Allam, Managing Director of the Autonomous Systems & Future Capability business within BAE Systems, said: “This achievement is testament to the can-do approach of the whole team working on this program. Mantis has gone from concept to flight in just 19 months and the MOD, BAE Systems and a number of industry parties have worked together to make this happen. It confirms the skill and innovation within the UK aerospace sector and the ability to move quickly from concept to reality.”
Mantis is following a spiral development path, with funding being provided in small chunks. After the success of the Spiral 1 aircraft flight tests the BAE development team and the UK MOD will plan what technology and capabilities should be included in the Spiral 2 iteration of the aircraft. Given the 19-month period from concept to flight for the project, don’t expect to have to wait too long for news of Spiral 2 flight tests.