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Offering persistent, multi-sensor strategic surveillance for military and civil customers, either as an integrated product or as a managed service, Leonardo’s FALCO XPLORER, the largest UAS yet built by the company, achieved its first flight on 15 January.

The 60-minute maiden flight, which took place from Trapani Air Force Base, is a significant milestone, achieved through the technical and engineering support of the Italian Air Force Test Flight Centre. The aircraft, which combines endurance of over 24hrs with a maximum payload of 350kg, will now embark on a series of flight test campaigns to assess its full range of capabilities, including those of its integrated sensor system. These campaigns will also certify the FALCO XPLORER to NATO’s airworthiness standard STANAG 4671, dramatically expanding the territory over which it can operate.

First unveiled at last year’s Paris Air Show, FAL|CO XPLORERt has been designed to offer persistent, multi-sensor strategic surveillance to military and civil customers and can be procured either as an integrated system or as a fully-managed information-superiority service, flown and operated by Leonardo. With a maximum take-off weight of 1.3t and an operating ceiling above 24,000ft, the aircraft is an affordable and potent option for ISR tasking.

Previous FALCO variants have been selected by the United Nations and Frontex, the European border and coastguard agency. The XPLORER design draws on feedback from these and other FALCO customers. It features a powerful sensor suite, including the company’s GABBIANO T-80 multi-mode surveillance radar, its SAGE electronic intelligence system, an automatic identification system for maritime missions and an electro-optical turret. An optional hyperspectral sensor will allow the UAS to monitor pollution and agricultural development. The native satellite link capability allows for beyond-line-of-sight operations, while its open system architecture means that third-party sensors can be easily integrated. Not subject to ITAR restrictions and meeting Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) class II criteria, the FALCO XPLORER is readily exportable around the world.

Leonardo’s design authority for the aircraft covers the aircraft, its sensor suite, mission system and ground control station, making the company a ‘one-stop-shop’ for unmanned capabilities. The advantages of this approach include the ability to offer competitive pricing and to draw on knowledge and experience from across the business to tailor a FALCO XPLORER package to the precise needs of customers, be those technical or commercial.

Leonardo’s FALCO XPLORER on its maiden flight, accompanied by an Italian Air Force HH139A. (Photo: Leonardo)

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