Denel unveils zero-launch UAV

By Leon Engelbrecht, ITWeb senior writer
Johannesburg, 21 Apr 2008

Denel Dynamics has tweaked its Seeker II processor piloted plane by adding a catapult launch and parafoil recovery capability.

The catapult launcher, successfully tested in February, allows operators to launch the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in situations where no runway is available. The parafoil similarly allows for the recovery of the UAV, says Denel Dynamics UAV systems business development manager Burt van Staade.

He adds that a GPS device fitted to a smart IT-enabled parafoil system ensures the Seeker is returned to a precise location, where, provided it is an open area free of trees or boulders, the pilotless plane that is the size of a hang-glider can be recovered with little or no damage.

Denel Dynamics CEO Jan Wessels says the upgrade was developed for a current user of the system. He declined to name the user country, but added that the Seeker remains "very popular in desert countries".

"It gives new life to the Seeker," he said of the upgrade more generally. "The only thing you have to give the aircraft is the coordinates and the rest happens automatically."

With the upgrade, the Seeker can be catapult-launched where there are no runways or roadways available, or it can be conventionally launched. Wessels adds that runways or roadways remain "the easiest and cheapest way to recover UAVs with zero damage".

"Nine out of 10 times you have enough runway, but for that other 10% this is valuable. Look at the experience of the Canadians in Afghanistan [where they've lost several catapult-launched Dornier Sperwers to wear-and-tear and operator error]. If they could have used a runway it would have halved their damage, but they were forced to use a launcher because that's the only way to launch a Sperwer."

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