Airbus launched FCAS loyal wingman demonstrator from A400M cargo hold

Airbus A400M launching Remote Carrier demonstrator

Airbus performed a new test of a Remote Carrier flight demonstrator – the loyal wingman drone for the upcoming Future Combat Air System (FCAS), a joint European sixth-generation fighter jet. 

The demonstrator has been launched from the cargo hold of an Airbus A400M Atlas transport aircraft, demonstrating the ability that is expected to be routine for future loyal wingmen. The unmanned aircraft then started its own engines and landed with the input of a ground controller 

“FCAS as a system of systems is starting to take shape now,” Airbus Defence and Space CEO Michael Schoellhorn commented in the company’s press release


Dropping drones from the Atlas

This is not the first time Airbus performed the aerial launch of a drone from the A400M. The first test of such a capability was performed in February 2022. 

That first test was intended to demonstrate the A400M’s ability to carry drones. A special demonstrator, based on the Airbus Do-DT25 drone, was launched before deploying its parachute for landing. 

The latest test was a lot more complex, Airbus explains, with the use of a new launch mechanism built by the manufacturer during the last half-a-year. 

After the launch, the drone started its own engines with control transferred to the ground crew. The drone flew under its own power, imitating regular mission parameters, before landing. 

Such missions will be able to make use of Airbus’ new compact airborne networking data link (CANDL) to share data between aircraft. The CANDL was used during the summer of 2022 in a complex multi-domain flight demonstration to team up remote carriers with fighter jets and helicopters in a scenario that imitated a real-life mission. 

The A400M is envisioned as a mothership that could carry an array of drones for such a mission. According to Airbus, up to 50 small or 12 heavy Remote Carriers can be launched from the cargo aircraft to support manned fighters on the battlefield. 


FCAS’ wingmen

Being part of a team with various combat drones – called loyal wingmen – is one of the defining features of all known upcoming sixth generation fighter jets. 

In the US several programs are being run to develop loyal wingmen for the next Generation Air Defense (NGAD) program, while the Tempest, created by a UK-led team and recently merged with Japan’s F-X, is going to have its drones as well. 

While Remote Carriers have always been portrayed as a part of the FCAS program, Airbus revealed more details just recently about a new kind of a Remote Carrier: a heavy drone that could be armed with various payloads including air-to-air missiles, bombs and electronic warfare equipment. 

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