A UK-developed autonomous unmanned aircraft has seen operational use for the first time after flying a mission in Afghanistan, said BAE Systems.
Although BAE admits the high endurance rapid technology (HERTI) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) cannot dodge surprise obstacles in its flight path (‘How would it know it was there?’ said BAE business development executive Martin Rowe-Willcocks), the 650kg aircraft is said to be able to independently take off, fly a pre-set mission and land — at a mouse click.
A typical mission could be a border patrol. Controllers would pre-programme not only a flight path but also a point of interest or feature like a road or coastline. The HERTI system (pictured below) is expected to take these images with a standard 35mm wide-angle lens and a 200mm telephoto lens on an ordinary camera.
These images are stored onboard the aircraft and processed by a series of algorithms to select only those that match pre-defined characteristics, such as a colour combination or a shape. Only the relevant images are sent to the ground control station for analysis.
BAE said a HERTI system’s mission plan could be tweaked during a flight. ‘In demonstrations we tend to do a profile of about an hour or two, and we will ask the vehicle to come back to a loiter point and it will put itself in a figure-of-eight flight plan while we reconfigure the flight plan,’ said Rowe-Willcocks.