New unmanned jet launched from Royal Navy’s last aircraft carrier

An unmanned fixed-wing aircraft has been launched from HMS Prince of Wales as the Royal Navy explores unmanned planes.

Fixed-wing drones – called the QinetiQ Banshee Jet 80+ – flew from the carrier’s flight deck to assess how they could be used to train personnel to defend against fast jets and ever-better missiles.

The jet Banshee, which looks like a mini fighter plane, can fly up to 25,000 feet, hover just above the waves, and fly at speeds of up to 460 mph.

It is difficult to detect on radar, which gives it all the resemblance of an incoming missile – making it a realistic adversary for sailors training to counter air threats.

These drones could potentially be carried by Royal Navy warships and provide operational training to task forces anywhere in the world, allowing them to conduct air defense exercises on demand to test responses. and refine the answers.

And the Banshee’s carrying capacity means the Royal Navy can use it to test future sensors, weapons and radio equipment.

HMS Prince of Wales is the first Royal Navy ship to carry these drones for demonstration purposes, as it prepares to become fully operational.

Banshee flights represent the first step for the Royal Navy in exploring how unmanned technology could be exploited from Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers in the future.

“There is a real need for a low cost drone such as the Banshee that can replicate a range of threats in the sky and provide a test bed for future payloads,” said Commander Rob Taylor, Head of Royal Navy testing and assessment. .

“The key to all of this is that a warship can take this drone with it on operations, launch it and use it to keep personnel on the lookout for threats from above.

“The ability to match the payload to different tasks is also crucial to deliver value for money and interoperability across the fleet. “

The demonstration with HMS Prince of Wales examined how the drone and associated support equipment, including the launcher, can be integrated into a busy ship and flight deck.

He also reviewed the installation of subsystems on board and the procedures for moving and installing the drone and kit on the flight deck, which has been a hive of activity as the ship trains with F-35B fighter jets and takes part in the world’s largest military exercise. in the United Kingdom, Joint Warrior, off the Scottish coast.

Flight test engineers and operators from QinetiQ, which owns and operates the Banshee, piloted three of the drone’s launcher aerial vehicles over the Hebrides Range off the northwest coast of Scotland.

The Banshee took off from the ship and recovered to land by parachute.

The demo is just one of the options for the Royal Navy’s Development Branch’s Project Vampire, which examines light unmanned, fixed-wing, on-board autonomous systems.

The project is part of a series of demonstrations that will help define the Royal Navy’s aviation of the future through the Future Maritime Aviation Force, which examines how the Fleet Air Arm will operate in the years to come.

“It aims to capitalize on the best that the industry has to offer by working alongside established aviation systems already in use around the world,” Taylor added.

“The program will look at rotary-wing and fixed-wing drones to fulfill a number of tasks in order to increase the mass of aircraft carriers and allow manned aircraft to maximize their capacity.

“The Banshee demonstration is just the start of the Unmanned Autonomous Systems work program for the Royal Navy.

“These are extremely exciting times for maritime aviation and the future of the Fleet Air Arm.”

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