Watchkeeper makes maiden voyage

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Thales UK today announced the maiden UK flight of the Watchkeeper unmanned air system (UAS) from Parc Aberporth in Wales.

The 20-minute flight, which took place yesterday, 14 April, is the first milestone in a long-term programme to demonstrate that the Watchkeeper system meets the safety and airworthiness criteria required to fly UAVs.

Watchkeeper is a multi-sensor, all-weather UAS designed to remain airborne for more than 16 hours in a single mission.

It includes automatic take-off and landing (ATOL), along with a de-icing capability, expanding its ability to operate in all-weather environments.

The system includes enhanced electro-optic/infrared sensors, with laser target designator, as well as an advanced synthetic aperture radar/ground moving-target indicator radar.

The information and images are provided to a network of mobile ground control stations and remote viewing terminals, where military operators are able to control the whole mission.

Alex Dorrian, chief executive of Thales UK, said: ‘This is a momentous accomplishment in the Watchkeeper programme and just one of a number of flight trials scheduled over the coming months. This milestone reflects the years of hard work by Thales UK, the MoD and other parties since the contract was signed.’

Dorrian added that later in the year a Watchkeeper training facility will open in Larkhill, Wiltshire, and technical field trials will continue at Parc Aberporth.