By Nathan Gain and Christina Mackenzie
Spy’Ranger, a tactical mini-RPAS (remotely piloted air system) currently being tested by the French armed forces, has the only EO/IR imaging system in the world capable of transmitting high-definition electro-optical and infrared imagery in real time. We recently had a look at it at Aviation Design, a French small and medium enterprise (SME), which specialises in model aircraft and has been working with Thales since 2005.
“Aviation Design was a sub-contractor for Spy’Arrow but has quickly become a privileged partner of Thales” to the point at which 18 months ago it was given the responsibility of developing the Spy’Ranger, explains Eric Rantet, owner and director of this SME in the village of
Milly-la-Forêt some 70km south of Paris.
He adds that “three months of integrated development were all it took for the joint Thales/Aviation Design team to come up with a new tactical RPAS” which weighs 15 kg, has a 30km range, three hours of autonomy and, above all, a range of unique technologies. Starting with the structure of the airframe, principally made of carbon fibre, and its landing cushion made of a patented foam that combines Kevlar, an abrasive matter and an absorbing material.
Free of all electronics, Spy’Ranger has been designed to be put together in less than 10 minutes with no tools and can be transported in two cases. The complete system – take-off ramp and control station included – weighs less than 25kg.
But the principal attraction of Spy’Ranger is its gyro-stabilised optronic ball, the “Spy Ball” with its two video channels and a laser designator that can be retracted into the RPAS’ fuselage. Developed in partnership with MERIO, the Spy Ball is “a major evolution compared to the systems used in Afghanistan and Côte d’Ivoire,” says Rantet. The day video channel and the infrared channel can transmit their data in high definition and in real time.
Thales used technological bricks from its portfolio to develop this RPAS. So, for example, the algorithm of the Rafale’s Reco NG pod was adapted to the Spy’Ranger’s capabilities to conceive the data link, whilst the image treatment and the command software were re-used from the Spy’Arrow.
Thales also developed a tool to help with landing, thanks to which Spy’Ranger calculates the best approach taking weather conditions into account.
Spy’Ranger has already flown eight operational flights for the French DGA procurement agency, the STAT army technical service and special forces in the framework of a call for tender for 210 RPASs. The first demonstrations to potential foreign clients will begin in September.