Watchkeeper UAV Makes First Flight in UK: "Watchkeeper, the newest unmanned aircraft to join the ranks of the British Army, performed its first flight in the U.K. on April 14, 2010, at Parc Aberporth in West Wales. Parc Aberporth facilities, managed by QinetiQ through- the West Wales Unmanned Air vehicle (UAV) Centre, are premier test facilities for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in the UK.
Performing the first successful flight was the first milestone in the UAV induction of the Watchkeeper system into Army units, demonstrating that the vehicle and its system meet the robust safety and airworthiness criteria required to fly UAVs initially on ranges and in segregated airspace in the UK. Thales UK, the system integrator and prime contractor, is scheduled to deliver the first Watchkeeper systems to the MOD this year. The Watchkeeper is a derivative of Hermes 450, developed by Israel's Elbit System's Silver Arrow subsidiary.
Watchkeeper is a high-performance, multi-sensor, all-weather, unmanned aerial system (UAS), remaining airborne for over 16 hours in a single mission. It includes a high degree of automation, with automatic take-off and landing (ATOL), and has a de-icing capability to expand its ability to operate in all-weather operational environment.
Delivered in a dual-payload configuration, the system includes enhanced electro-optic / infrared sensors, with laser target-designator, as well as an advanced I-Master synthetic aperture radar / ground moving target indicator radar.
Until the Watchkeeper becomes fully operational, the Army relies on the services of a fleet of leased Hermes 450 unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) operated by Thales UK.
The company offers the military an innovative ‘ISTAR-by-the-hour’ contract. Since the contract award, in July 2007, these Hermes 450 UAVs have flown more than 30,000 operational hours in over 2,000 sorties, supporting British forces in current operations, primarily in Afghanistan. The company launched this service in response to an Urgent Operational Requirement (UoR) contract issued by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD), running through to contract completion in October this year, which could potentially be extended until April 2011 when the Hermes 450s will be phased out as the new Watchkeeper system delivers frontline capability.
Photo Credit: Thales UK