Taranis is towed out & readied for take-off Taranis is towed out and readied for take-off
Taranis makes a successful first flight Taranis makes successful first flight

Top secret Taranis

Powered by a Rolls-Royce Turbomeca Adour Mk951 engine, the UK’s new Taranis unmanned aerial vehicle – described as ‘the most advanced air system to be conceived, designed and built in the UK’ – has made a successful first flight.

Details of the flight, which took place at an undisclosed test range in August 2013, were only released at a briefing held in London in February 2014.

The demonstrator aircraft, designed and built by BAE Systems made a perfect take-off, rotation, ‘climb-out’ and landing on its 15 minute first flight. A number of flights then took place in 2013 of up to one hour in duration and at a variety of altitudes and speeds.

Taranis, named after the Celtic god of thunder, is the result of one-and-a-half-million man hours of work by the UK’s leading scientists, aerodynamicists and systems engineers from 250 UK companies.

The aircraft has been designed to demonstrate the UK’s ability to create an unmanned air system which, under the control of a human operator, is capable of undertaking sustained surveillance, marking targets, gathering intelligence, deterring adversaries and carrying out strikes in hostile territory.

Its Rolls-Royce Turbomeca Adour turbofan is a collaborative engine between Rolls-Royce of the UK and Turbomeca of France, with a thrust range from 5,240lbf dry to 8,400lbf with reheat. So far over 2,800 Adours have been sold for a variety of applications including the Jaguar strike aircraft and the Hawk fast trainer jet. It is one of the most successful military engines in the world and is in service with major Defence forces.

In addition to the supply of the core engine Rolls-Royce has been involved in the integration of the innovative and class-leading low-observable technologies to meet the airframe requirements. The full propulsion system was assembled and extensively bench tested at the Rolls-Royce facility in Bristol, UK, prior to installation in the Taranis airframe.

Commenting on the Rolls-Royce participation, Conrad Banks, Chief Engineer Defence Technology Programmes says: “The successful flight trials represent the culmination of seven years of innovative and groundbreaking low observable propulsion research. This wasn’t a typical aerospace programme about gas turbine development; instead our focus was on the complex and embedded installation of the engine into the body of the airframe itself, with particular attention on the low observable exhaust system.

Throughout the Taranis journey Rolls-Royce has developed a series of leading-edge capabilities across design, analysis and advanced manufacturing. These all came together for the fully successful flight tests, a very proud moment for myself and the wider Rolls-Royce team who have worked together, mostly in secret, for these last seven years.”

The findings from the Taranis aircraft’s flight programme prove that the UK has developed a significant lead in understanding unmanned aircraft which could strike with precision over a long range whilst remaining undetected. The technological advances made through Taranis will also help the UK MOD and Royal Air Force make decisions on the future mix of manned and unmanned fast jet aircraft and how they will operate together in a safe and effective manner for the UK’s defences.

Costing £185 million and funded jointly by the UK MOD and UK industry, the Taranis demonstrator aircraft was formally unveiled in July 2010 but only a very limited number of scientists and engineers have ever been given full access to the top secret aircraft.

Initial ‘power-up’ or ground testing commenced later in 2010 in Warton, Lancashire followed by a comprehensive and highly detailed programme of pre-first flight milestones including unmanned pilot training, radar cross section measurements, ground station system integration and, in April 2013 taxi trials.

The aircraft and its ground station were then shipped from Warton to the test-range before being re-assembled and undergoing systems and diagnostics checks. Taranis then made a number of high speed taxi tests in July before its maiden flight.