Drones

Watchkeeper becomes first UAS to fly with commercial aircraft in UK civil airspace

Watchkeeper becomes first UAS ...
Watchkeeper took off from West Wales Airport on a three-and-a-half-hour flight
Watchkeeper took off from West Wales Airport on a three-and-a-half-hour flight
View 5 Images
Watchkeeper took off from West Wales Airport on a three-and-a-half-hour flight
1/5
Watchkeeper took off from West Wales Airport on a three-and-a-half-hour flight
The all-weather aircraft is based on the Elbit Hermes 450 UAV
2/5
The all-weather aircraft is based on the Elbit Hermes 450 UAV
Thales says this first foray into civilian airspace will assist in the development of the required operational and regulatory conditions to allow widespread use of unmanned aircraft
3/5
Thales says this first foray into civilian airspace will assist in the development of the required operational and regulatory conditions to allow widespread use of unmanned aircraft
Around one hour of the voyage was through civilian airspace, as the craft was managed by air traffic controllers on the ground
4/5
Around one hour of the voyage was through civilian airspace, as the craft was managed by air traffic controllers on the ground
Around one hour of the voyage was through civilian airspace, as the craft was managed by air traffic controllers on the ground
5/5
Around one hour of the voyage was through civilian airspace, as the craft was managed by air traffic controllers on the ground
View gallery - 5 images

A world where unmanned aircraft soar alongside their manned counterparts mightn't be all that far away, with UK defence firm Thales recently flying its Watchkeeper drone in civil airspace for the first time. The test run has been labeled a success, with operators saying it brings the UK one step closer to using unmanned aircraft for various applications, including security missions and border patrol.

Thales' Watchkeeper drone first took to the air in 2009 and is being developed for the British Army to offer aerial surveillance, reconnaissance and support for troops on the ground. It won't carry people, but it does feature dual payload capabilities and is able to remain in the air for more than 16 hours at a time.

On this occasion, Watchkeeper took off from West Wales Airport on a three-and-a-half-hour flight. Around one hour of this was through civilian airspace as the craft was managed by air traffic controllers on the ground, marking the first time an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has been flown in non-segregated airspace along with commercial aircraft in the UK.

Thales says this first foray into civilian airspace will assist in the development of the required operational and regulatory conditions to allow widespread use of unmanned aircraft
Thales says this first foray into civilian airspace will assist in the development of the required operational and regulatory conditions to allow widespread use of unmanned aircraft

"The successful flight is the result of months of systematic planning to ensure Watchkeeper was safely controlled by UK Air Traffic Control agencies at all times," said Pete Grinsted, head of Unmanned Air Systems at UK Ministry of Defence. "This is also an exciting step on the path to safely integrating military and civilian unmanned air systems into civilian airspace over the coming years."

The all-weather aircraft is based on the Elbit Hermes 450 UAV and features a wingspan of 35 ft (10.6 m) and a synthetic aperture radar/ground moving target indicator (SAR/GMTI). In March of last year, the UK Ministry of Defence granted Watchkeeper a Release of Service, enabling the British Army to commence flight training with the aircraft.

Thales says this first foray into civilian airspace will assist in the development of the required operational and regulatory conditions to allow widespread use of unmanned aircraft. Further to military applications, it imagines they could come to be used for commercial purposes and in search and rescue efforts.

You can see the Watchkeeper take to skies in the video below.

Source: Thales

Unmanned aircraft flies in UK civil airspace for the first time

View gallery - 5 images
4 comments
Wolf0579
And exactly how long before it's armed and used against the populace as a "police" platform? I give it a year.
Bob Flint
So how are other pilots suppose to talk with this when they need to?
Mel Tisdale
In reply to Wolf0579
"Used" I doubt, but ready for use, yes, very likely. It all depends on bigger issues that are stealthily coming down the pike.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
This is the beginning of the "flying car"!