14 Hour Endurance Record for Watchkeeper
Operational trials with the British Army’s Watchkeeper remain on track to start next month, after the WK450 aircraft set a new endurance record in testing. Major Matt Moore, SO2 UAS for headquarters, Royal Artillery, said that a WK450 completed an almost 14 hour flight in early September from West Wales airport.
With current approvals restricting test flights to daylight hours only, the aircraft landed with around 4 hours of fuel remaining. During the record-breaking UK flight, the aircraft’s dual mission payload of an Elop Compass IV electro-optical/infrared camera and Thales I-Master/Viper synthetic aperture radar/ground moving target indication sensor were employed, along with its data link.
The UAS was also taken to its 16,000ft (4,880m) service ceiling and 115km (62nm) away from the airport, Moore told the UK Air Warfare Centre’s remotely piloted air systems symposium in Shrivenham, Wiltshire, on 8 September. The aircraft also flew using its operational-standard software, prime contractor Thales UK said.
Operational trials with the Watchkeeper will be conducted in October and November, with the first training flights over Salisbury Plain to be made from the Ministry of Defence Boscombe Down site in Wiltshire in December.
Watchkeeper vehicles and equipment will be deployed to Afghanistan from late this year, to deliver one daily “task line” from the first quarter of 2012. A full service using six task lines should be in place within 12 months, Moore said.
In addition to continuing flight testing, other Watchkeeper activities currently include preparing modifications – such as the addition of covert lighting – for deployment in Afghanistan. Development testing with the WK450 has now passed 230 flights and 320 hours in the UK and Israel.