Airbus tests Cargo Copter during NATO military exercise


A sub-scale demonstrator of a future Airbus multi-mission unmanned aerial vehicle has been demonstrated during a large an exercise organized last month by the Portuguese Navy and NATO.

By taking part in this exercise, the “cargo copter” operated in a dense robotic environment, validating the concept’s usefulness – particularly its modular design for easy, flexible and rapid swap-out of payloads and batteries.

The demonstrator was developed by Airbus’ UAS New Programmes group in collaboration with the company’s X-Works rapid prototyping team. A system-of-systems approach was applied with the goal of meeting military mission requirements that range from cargo transportation and ISR duties (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) to serving as a communications relay and a combat force multiplier.

cargo copter testing

The Cargo Copter can move cargo and perform ISR duties (Image: Airbus)

The Cargo Copter’s validation occurred in highly realistic operational conditions during the REP(MUS)2022 military exercise, which was conducted in Portugal’s Troia Peninsula region from September 12-23. Overall, REP(MUS)2022 brought together around 1,500 personnel to test the coordination of unmanned systems and experimental mission scenarios above the water, on the water and under the sea.

Jens Federhen, who leads the X-Works rapid prototyping team said, “This was a great opportunity to trial our small-scale demonstrator in realistic conditions. Performing the demonstrations in such a demanding environment – surrounded by six research ships, 11 warships and 120 uncrewed systems around us – was extremely challenging, and at the same time very productive, as we have been able to learn and create useful collaboration links.”

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The Cargo Copter is equipped with an autoland system (Image: Airbus)

The sub-scale demonstrator of the future Airbus Multi-Mission and Transport UAS is a 35-kg vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) multicopter. Sized to accommodate a range of payloads, the “cargo copter” is equipped with the Airbus-developed DeckFinder all-purpose landing aid for automatic landings on ship decks.

According to Johannes Pittermann, UAS Portfolio Manager and REP(MUS) 2022 project manager, Airbus’ participation also helped to answer some open questions for the multi-mission cargo drone’s full-scale concept, providing valuable guidance in follow-on design and development work.

For the full-scale version, Airbus UAS New Programmes envisions a drone capable of carrying payloads of more than 250 kg payload over a range of more than 300km (186 miles). Beyond the military applications, Airbus foresees a role for the Airbus Multi-Mission and Transport UAS in civilian use for, e.g. humanitarian and/ or disaster/crisis management.

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