We Found This British Drone’s Secret Test Site
Taranis robot flew from Australia’s Woomera airfield
Satellite imagery acquired by DigitalGlobe appears to show the BAE-built Taranis stealth drone at Australia’s Woomera airfield.
BAE Systems, a British defense and aerospace company, revealed earlier in February that the Taranis unmanned combat air vehicle demonstrator successfully completed its maiden flight at an undisclosed test location in Australia back in August.
Recent imagery acquired by DigitalGlobe would appear to confirm that the drone took off from Woomera airfield, South Australia, a location well known to plane spotters.
Unfortunately, an accurate measurement of the fuselage is practically impossible with the current imagery quality, especially since the nose appears to be fitted with a communications array or a pitot tube.
Imagery from October available in Google Earth still showed the aircraft parked on the apron at the airfield. In addition, surrounding support equipment may even suggest pre-flight activity.
BAE Systems’ Nigel Whitehead said a number of flights were executed last year at a variety of altitudes and speeds but could not confirm details.
The joint British-French Taranis project is named after the Celtic god of thunder and is comparable to the U.S. Navy’s X-47B. Like its American counterpart, the aircraft has been designed to fly with a high degree of autonomy from take-off to landing.
According to BAE’s own infographic, the UCAV would fly over a target location using a predetermined flight plan providing persistent surveillance until a target is identified. It would then let loose its payload from two internal weapon bays only after confirmation from a human controller at mission command.
Beyond this seemingly standard ground attack capability, we don’t know much else in terms of offensive measures, especially in regards to avoiding enemy aircraft.
The UCAV has been in development since December 2006, when BAE signed the contract with the U.K. Ministry of Defense. BAE unveiled Taranis to the public in 2010. The demonstrator took 1.5 million man-hours to build and cost around $300 million.
By April 2013 taxi trials were underway at Warton Aerodrome, an airfield also hosting BAE’s manufacturing facilities. With its blended wing shaped body, it is the most advanced drone ever developed in the U.K.