UK to expand UAV test boundaries

The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is preparing to extend the boundaries for test flights of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), as the Ministry of Defence (MoD) seeks to further develop its ongoing Watchkeeper programme.

[] It has emerged that the existing six-mile training area, complete with 5,000 ft ceiling around Parc Aberporth in Wales, will be extended to the east to allow interoperability exercises with the British Army operating on Sennybridge Training Area (SENTA).

Speaking to Unmanned Vehicles at UV Europe 2010 in Brussels, CAA Directorate of Airspace Policy’s Lieutenant Commander Gerry Corbett said the Restricted Airspace (RAT) initiative had yet to be passed but described it as the first step in airspace change proposals.

He expects the proposal to be granted the go-ahead by the start of September if it is considered safe for them to do so. ‘We are breaking new ground here,’ Corbett told UV.

‘The proposal is with the CAA for assessment. [The MoD] would like to expand areas of operation further out to sea and move out east into Wales for payload development,’ he said.

Corbett added that it would also consider ‘additional applications’ for other UAVs.

More specifically, he said it would be a good opportunity for UAV Tactical Systems, Thales UK’s joint venture with Elbit Systems, to test out sensors including the Synthetic Aperture Radar in tandem with requirements from ground forces.

The plans follow a decision on 1 July to allow Watchkeeper to be flown over the Salisbury Plain training area. Expected to be launched from Boscombe Down, Watchkeeper UAVs will be able to fly between 2,000 and 16,000 ft and over the certified ‘danger areas’.

Watchkeeper, the British Army’s latest tactical UAV solution designed for intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) operations, carried out its first flight in UK airspace at Parc Aberporth on 14 April. It has been slated to deploy with British forces to Afghanistan later in the year.

By Andew White, Brussels