Certification is essential
After completing the initial development phase of the One 150/150M, the company has started the steps leading to the approval of the aircraft by both EU and NATO aviation authorities. Last year, the company received approval as a development and manufacturing organization according to the EMAR 21 standard and became one of three European companies boasting the same approval. This guarantees the aviation authorities a high level of internal company processes and standardization of its outputs for easy evaluation of its activities. Part of the company’s plans is the certification of the aircraft according to the STANAG 4703 standard, which is being carried out in cooperation with the Department of Supervision of Military Aviation and VTÚLaPVO (Automated Command and Control Systems for Aviation and Air Defense). Ladislav Semetkovský, CEO, evaluates the certification process: “For our company and Military Aviation Oversight Division it is a first of a kind project, when a fully certified unmanned aircraft manufactured in the Czech Republic is certified according to the STANAG 4703 standard. We are very satisfied with the approach and flexibility of the Military Aviation Oversight Division. Colonel Sitta has created the conditions at the departmental level for the effective work of the expert group that oversees our activities. We are also very satisfied with the support of the Office of Defence Standardization, Cataloguing and State Quality Verification, whose staff inspected the production of the One 150M prototype military aircraft. For us, it is gratifying to have the opportunity to work with real professionals whose knowledge and expertise are world-leading when compared to approval processes in other countries. We see the certification of our organization and aircraft as a clear and necessary way to demonstrate the safety and quality of our aircraft. Without certification, no aerial vehicle has a chance of success, not even an unmanned one.” Certification involves dozens of different tests that take place according to an approved schedule. The company also cooperates with the Institute of Aircraft Technology of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering of the Czech Technical University, which is significantly involved in strength tests, as well as with other organizations. One of the advantages of the One 150 is that it is fully developed and manufactured by Primoco UAV SE and relies only on the autopilot and datalink for subcontracting from abroad, but these are already in place in other NATO forces and have all the necessary certifications. The company also received a certificate of registration for its first aircraft in the Air Force Register, under fuselage number 0498. This aircraft was personally inspected by the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Miloš Zeman, during the demonstration at Prague Castle. Many representatives of the Czech Army had the opportunity to see it.
In parallel with the military programme, the approval according to the civil standards of the European agency EASA is underway. EASA’s new rules came into force this year and Primoco UAV is the first and so far only applicant to deal with the Civil Aviation Authority to obtain a Light Unmanned Aerial Vehicle operator licence. This authorisation will allow the company to assess operational risks and approve individual flights independently within the rules of the regulatory framework. For military users, this certification will have an impact on a wide range of deployment options in civilian environments (e.g. overflights or movements in civilian airspace) and will allow operation in locations outside of designated military flight corridors, as opposed to purely military certification.
Primoco UAV has successfully tested new on-board sensor equipment this year. In cooperation with the Latvian company UAV Factory, a new EO/MWIR observation unit Epsilon 180 with Full HD day channel, SD thermal imaging channel in MWIR band and laser rangefinder was integrated. At the turn of the year, the integration of a Full HD thermal imaging sensor is expected, giving the aircraft the capability of optically high-quality and accurate night-time reconnaissance, the performance of which exceeds even standard systems used today, for example, on modern military helicopters. The EO/IR unit is equipped with advanced autonomous systems for automatic object tracking as well as a map output for easy operator orientation. In addition to the EO/IR unit, the aircraft can also carry the TK-7 optical multispectral sensor from the US company Overwatch Imaging, which offers fully autonomous search and evaluation of objects of interest on the ground in several sensing spectrums. The system can detect, for example, cars or signs of human activity, with the ability to search up to 300 km² in detail per hour of flight. A tremendous advantage of the TK-7 unit is its autonomous operation and its ability to compress data on board and send information in the form of a data map layer usable in a wide range of military and civilian mapping programs. Capable of taking images from altitudes where it can neither be seen nor heard, the One 150 is a highly effective surveillance and reconnaissance platform.
Cooperation with the US company Imsar, which supplies its NSP-5 and NSP-7 synthetic aperture radars to Primoco UAVs, is also continuing. Thanks to advanced automation and software image processing, they can detect targets and points of interest even in conditions of zero optical visibility (through clouds, smoke or fog), including the ability to detect and determine the speed of moving targets in both land and maritime target modes. In the case of the use of libraries and repeated scanning, both the NSP-5 and NSP-7 SAR radars and the TK-7 multispectral unit allow for real-time comparison of current and historical data, and the system operator can immediately see where changes have occurred in the environment (movements of people, vehicles or the location of camouflaged equipment, etc.). This year, the range of optional sensors was expanded to include the PT-8 and PT-8N automatic optical scanning systems designed for locating ships and survivors on the water surface. These features make the One 150 a highly autonomous platform capable of detecting objects of interest without the operator having to search for them. This reduces the complexity of conducting the survey and allows the operator to focus on the detected potential targets in detail instead of engaging in inefficient area searches.
For deployment in poor visibility conditions, the company, in cooperation with a renowned German partner, tested a unique system designed to detect people regardless of weather and time of day or night, with a range of many kilometres. The company plans to announce details of this revolutionary system at a future trade fair, although it is in discussions with several customers about potential sales.
The One 150’s large payload capacity and its ability to continuously transmit large volumes of data without retransmission up to 200 km allows the aircraft to be equipped with a combination of sensors to achieve maximum effective reconnaissance. For one of the foreign customers, the company in cooperation with American partners is preparing the integration of data link systems operating in different bands, which will make the unmanned aircraft an airborne data exchange within the concept of MANET networks (mobile ad-hoc networks) created operationally as needed independently of the ground infrastructure. This is another capability of the aircraft that can be combined with reconnaissance sensors.
The development of unmanned technologies and their gradual emergence into areas previously reserved only for manned machines naturally leads to the need to ensure the operational safety of these machines at a level common in aviation. Primoco UAV has therefore significantly expanded its set of safety measures. First of all, for flights over populated areas, the aircraft can be equipped with a ballistic rescue parachute from the renowned Czech company Galaxy GRS. Its rescue systems have already saved dozens of pilots and, in the case of the One 150, guarantee the aircraft’s impact in the event of an emergency without major structural damage. Ground and flight tests conducted in cooperation between Primoco UAV and Galaxy GRS have led to successful verification of the applicability of this technology. An example of the effectiveness of such a measure is that in terms of impact energy, it has been reduced to almost a hundredth of a percent.
Another safety feature is the aircraft’s enhanced navigation system. One 150 aircraft are now flying with customers who cannot rely on GPS/Glonass/Galileo satellite navigation capabilities. Therefore, they can be equipped with a completely unique navigation technology independent of satellite receivers and the on-board inertial unit, which is itself an independent navigation element. The company was approached by a leading European manufacturer for the integration of the new navigation system, which chose the Primoco One 150 as the first aircraft type to integrate the new navigation system. In virtually any conditions, including heavy interference, the company is able to guarantee that the aircraft will follow the planned route. The growing One 150 fleet and intensive testing are also leading to a gradual increase in operational safety. For example, the company has tested a new engine filtration system that ensures smooth operation of the power unit even when flying in extremely dusty environments. Other improvements concern the on-board software and the Detect & Avoid concept. For it, the company is integrating a full-fledged ADSB-In/Out transponder and will be the first non-U.S. aircraft to offer both this transponder and a military IFF identifier capability up to Mode 5. Both elements will ensure easy coordination of unmanned and manned aircraft movements in a single airspace.
The Primoco UAV One 150/150M is the most advanced European UAV in the category up to 150 kg take-off weight. Thanks to its sophisticated design, it now offers far more sophisticated and powerful sensor equipment than the most widely used military drones, with extremely simple operational logistics and favourable operating and acquisition costs. The company is constantly working on continuous improvements to its aircraft and expects to integrate several additional proven sensors. Upon completion of military certification and the expected acquisition of civil authorization as a light unmanned aircraft operator under civil regulations, the One 150 will also represent one of the few approved aircraft that will be allowed to conduct regular long-range BVLOS flights. And it should be added that the Czech company has not used a single crown of EU subsidies or support programmes to achieve world-class performance.