The British Royal Navy has taken delivery of jet-powered Banshee 80+ drones developed by defence company QinetiQ.
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The remotely-piloted air systems are fitted with twin turbine engines and launched by 60-foot pneumatic launchers. they can simulate enemy aircraft attack as they reach speeds of up to 400m/h and have a range of 60 miles.
The drones were originally developed for use as targets to simulate incoming missiles and have previously been trialled on the HMS Prince Of Wales aircraft carrier in 2021.
Naval Air Squadron 700X commanding officer Lieutenant Commander Martin Howard said the new flight crew based at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose will maintain and safely operate its own fleet of drones.
“We have already established the use of RPAS on Royal Navy ships on deployment, but the introduction of Banshee signals a revolutionary step forward in terms of technology,” Lt Cdr Howard said.
“An important point to make is that we are not weaponising these systems. Instead this will be a vehicle that will allow the navy to test different types of sensors.
“The most important thing for me is that people are at the heart of this enterprise. In 700X NAS we are building the skills and knowledge of this technology which is key as we move forward.”
Drone controllers use a ground station to operate the aircraft and access onboard cameras or other sensors, before the Banshee cuts its engine and deploys a parachute to float to the ground.
The Royal Navy’s first Banshee flight commander, Lieutenant Tony Nairn, was an air engineer and anti-submarine warfare helicopter aircrewman for 17 years before he commissioned as an officer.
“One of the challenges of RPAS is the rate at which the technology develops. It’s therefore vital that we are able to change direction quickly, whilst maintaining core principles of operating safely. This is absolutely about adaptability and flexibility,” he said.
RNAS Culdrose commanding officer Captain Stuart Irwin said the navy’s first test flights of Banshee is expected to be held at Predannack Airfield near RNAS Culdrose in the summer.
“700X NAS not only operates in-service uncrewed systems for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, it is also a pathfinder squadron, conducting experimentation of these air systems for defence,” Capt Irwin said.
“They are truly at the vanguard of our Future Maritime Aviation Force. It is enormously exciting to see the rapid progress they’re making. The squadron is a great team working at the forefront of naval aviation’s next big technological leap.”