ABOVE: The modified Do-DT25 drone was launched from the ramp of an airborne Bundeswehr A400M

Germany’s Armed Forces, Airbus, the German Aerospace Center DLR, and German companies SFL and Geradts have jointly carried out the world’s first launch of a drone from an airborne A400M. The use of multiple drones is one of the goals set for Airbus’s military transport aircraft in the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) project.

For the test flight, the drone, a modified Airbus Do-DT25, was loaded onto the ramp of a Bundeswehr A400M, from which it was launched. After the release, the Do-DT25’s engines were started and the drone continued to fly while being guided from the mothership. The crew on board the A400M then handed over control to an operator on the ground, who safely commanded and landed the drone.

Drones like the one involved in the test flight are expected to be an important component of FCAS. They will fly in close cooperation with manned aircraft and support pilots in their tasks and missions. Military transport aircraft such as the A400M will play a crucial role in the strategy: as motherships, they will bring the drones (labelled ‘Remote Carriers’) close to their areas of operation, before releasing up to fifty of them. These will then join manned aircraft, operating with a high degree of automation although always under a pilot’s control.