Thales announced that for the first time, Watchkeeper Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) was successfully flown alongside manned aircraft in controlled civil airspace. Watchkeeper, the only certified platform of its class able to undertake such a flight, was central to the success of the trial.
The flight took place on Wednesday 30 September and saw Watchkeeper fly from West Wales Airport into civil controlled airspace for an hour, where it was successfully managed by NATS, the UK air navigation services provider, for the first time.
The flight forms part of Project CLAIRE, a collaboration between Thales, NATS, the Dutch National Aerospace Laboratory NLR, the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and was joint funded by the SESAR Joint Undertaking.
This new breakthrough is once more an innovative step for Watchkeeper, the largest single European UAS programme, having already been the first UAS of its type to be awarded a Release to Service (RTS) or equivalent in Europe. Its type assurance and certification allows Watchkeeper to fly in non-segregated airspace, a certification pedigree that is transferable to regulatory authorities within other NATO member countries and the European Aviation Safety Agency.
Using Watchkeeper, this aviation first will help develop the necessary operational and regulatory conditions to support a growing need for unmanned aircraft system to be used in commercial, search and rescue, homeland security tasks, critical infrastructure and border protection. Air Commodore Pete Grinsted, Head of Unmanned Air Systems Team at the MOD’s Defence, Equipment and Support organisation, said: “This is a landmark achievement for UK aviation history and the Watchkeeper programme, and was only possible thanks to a collaborative approach involving Thales, CAA, NATS and the MOD.
“The successful flight is the result of months of systematic planning to ensure Watchkeeper was safely controlled by UK Air Traffic Control agencies at all times. This is also an exciting step on the path to safely integrating military and civilian unmanned air systems into civilian airspace over the coming years.”
This flight together with the successful delivery of Watchkeeper into service demonstrates how Watchkeeper X, our tactical product, based on the British Watchkeeper programme, provides a strong solution to meet the requirements of both France’s UAS programme and Poland’s Gryf Tactical UAS programme.
“Thales is providing the first and only, completely Unmanned Aircraft System that is certified to fly through non-segregated airspace. Thales is proud to be involved in the Project CLAIRE flight demonstration and the challenge of safely integrating Unmanned Aircraft Systems into controlled civilian airspace. Watchkeeper is a uniquely capable system, which is leading the way in the evolution and regulation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems.” Pierre Eric Pommellet, Thales Executive Vice-President, Defence Mission Systems
· First flight for an UAS in non-segregated air space, alongside commercial aircraft.
· Watchkeeper is the only airworthy UAS of its class certified to fly in both civilian airspace and restricted military airspace.
· The Project CLAIRE flight demonstration is a collaborative effort under Europe’s SESAR UAS demonstration programme.