Airbus successfully launches wingman drones from A400M

These Remote Carriers will supplement manned aircraft and support pilots in their tasks and missions.
Jijo Malayil
The world’s first successful launch and operation of a Remote Carrier flight test demonstrator from a flying A400M
The world’s first successful launch and operation of a Remote Carrier flight test demonstrator from a flying A400M


A group led by Airbus has successfully tested the launch and operation of a Remote Carrier flight test demonstrator, a modified Airbus Do-DT25 drone, from a flying A400M.

The project, jointly developed with Germany’s Bundeswehr, the German Aerospace Center DLR, and German companies SFL and Geradts, aims to supplement the upcoming European sixth-generation fighter jet, part of the Future Combat Air System (FCAS). "Multiplying the force and extending the range of unmanned systems will be one of the future roles of Airbus’ military transport aircraft in the FCAS," said in a release.

"The excellent collaboration with our German customer and partners on the A400M UAV Launcher campaign is further evidence of how the development of FCAS will take innovation and technologies to the next level,” said Michael Schoellhorn, CEO of Airbus Defence and Space.

To conduct the test, the team loaded the system onto a Bundeswehr A400M ramp, from which the Remote Carrier demonstrator was launched. Once the drone was airborne, the team fired up its motors to enable it to enter powered flight mode. "The crew on board the A400M then handed over control to an operator on the ground, who safely commanded and landed the drone."

How Remote Carriers help FCAS

Such wingman drones are expected to play a crucial role in FCAS as they are proposed to be deployed in close cooperation with the next-generation fighter jets, supporting pilots in carrying out their missions. "FCAS as a system of systems is starting to take shape now," said Schoellhorn.

Large transport aircraft such as the A4000M will carry out the important function of acting like motherships. These will enable the military to get these drones closer to the battlefield before releasing up to 50 small or 12 heavy Remote Carriers in the sky. These drones, designed to carry certain payloads for specific missions, will supplement crewed aircraft in various tasks. These systems are designed to work with high degree of automation, "although always under a pilot’s control."

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The development of Remote Carrier

The team developed the system for launching Remote Carriers from a flying A400M in just six months. The project saw its engineers using rapid prototyping and joint flight testing approaches. "This enabled the multidisciplinary team to develop and integrate the system, bringing it into the needed systems-of-systems context in a very short time, ready for flight testing."