QinetiQ has demonstrated a manned helicopter and semi-autonomous drone operated as a team while airborne, marking a first for the UK.

The teaming operation was carried out over the army’s ranges on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, UK.

During the demonstration, the airborne manned / unmanned team was able to detect potential targets in a selected area.

The drone switched controls from autonomous and human-controlled as commanded by the helicopter operator.

In line with mission requirements, the helicopter switched between monitoring the drone camera images and allowing it to operate independently.

The project is funded by Army HQ Research and Experimentation by means of the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) competition framework.

Under the British Army’s Warfighting Experiment 2019 (AWE19), Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) is responsible for delivering the capability to the army this September.

QinetiQ programme manager Rob Scott said: “To make it possible we had to take a Mission-Led Innovation1 approach and look at how to use what we already had available.

“We made full use of our live, virtual and simulated test environments as well as the facilities and resources available within our Long-Term Partnering Agreement with the MoD. We’re particularly pleased we could undertake a live testing programme using one of our own H125 helicopters.

“It provides a realistic platform for repeatable experimentation while saving the UK MoD time and money by not requiring scarce operational resources to be diverted for trials.”

The airborne team controlled the process using a point and click interface on a portable tablet on board the H125 helicopter.

With minimum modifications, the team used a range of diverse technologies from various suppliers.