Wales UAV base relaunches as National Aeronautical Centre

A base in Wales that is fast becoming the UK’s hub for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has been relaunched as the National Aeronautical Centre (NAC).

The move by West Wales Airport (WWA), which claims to operate the world’s only restricted airspace dedicated to civilian and military UAVs, is an attempt to better position the UK to tap into a global market estimated to be worth $51bn (£33bn) by 2018.

The NAC, officially launched at this week’s Farnborough Airshow, comprises a cluster of bases run by the likes of Qinetiq, Thales and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) that have grown up over the last decade around the airport on the west Welsh coast.

The centre has access to around 2,000m2 of restricted airspace designated for UAV use over the Irish Sea, which has been used to test the Watchkeeper craft developed by Thales for the British Army.

It also offers electromagnetic launch systems provided by GE Energy Power Conversion and is also involved in developing real-time 3D visualisation software to control UAVs in flight.

Ray Mann, managing director of the Mann Organisation, which owns WWA, said the combination of the centre’s airspace, facilities and access to a growing UAV supply chain had helped attract such high-profile customers.

‘The military has always had its own segregated areas of airspace but for the MoD to be using a private environment is unique,’ he told The Engineer.

He added that unlike some government-driven national research centres, the NAC had developed naturally and was already a national asset.

A recent report by technology analyst Wintergreen Research found that the global unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) market is anticipated to reach $51bn by 2018 thanks to an increase in the capabilities and awareness of UAVs.