> our title:

France, Germany Test Tube-Launched UAV

> original title:

Interview: Tube-Launched Drone

(Source: French defence procurement agency, DGA; issued May 6, 2014)

(Issued in French only; unofficial translation by Defense-Aerospace.com)

The GLMAV drone seen during a test flight (left) and in close-up, with its contra-rotating rotors clearly visible. (ISL photos)

Ultra lightweight, mobile, quick to deploy and fitted with a camera with two fields of view ... this little flying machine that is literally shot from a tube, like a cannon, is not short of qualities. The GLMAV (Gun Launched Micro Air Vehicle) drone was developed by the Research Institute of Saint-Louis (ISL) for observation missions. Interview with Patrick Gnemmi, the project’s initiator and manager.

What is the principle of the GLMAV?

This is a miniature UAV, weighing about 1 kg, and is launched from a dedicated tube. At launch, the drone is encapsulated in a protective envelope that has a diameter of 8 cm. Once the projectile reaches its ballistic peak, two counter-rotating rotors are deployed, turning it into a drone without any loss of components. The machine is then braked and enters the hover. It is piloted from its ground station. When deployed, the drone has a diameter of 35 cm and is 46 cm high.

So it’s a cannon-launched drone??

Yes, in principle, but the word cannon is reminiscent of Big Bertha ... while our system is highly mobile – that’s how we designed it to be. The launcher weighs about 10 kg. Not at all comparable with a conventional barrel, even though the launch takes place directly from the tube. This speed is also found in the launch phase: Our drone can be operational in under 15 seconds, while its competitors need 1 or 2 minutes to reach their observation position. A great time-saver!

Quick to implement ... but what for?

The GLMAV is equipped with a camera that transits its images in real time. It also is able to film in two different directions at the same time, thanks to its splitter prism. So there are two distinct fields of vision: a vertical view of the ground and another, horizontal, to view ahead. For whom? The police should find it useful as it is particularly well-suited for urban areas, and it can move easily on the street, or even enter buildings ... well, that’s what we’re working on. With this innovation, we are also targeting military operations. The system has a range of 500 meters, so it can easily be sent in front of friendly troops to scout their advance, and very quietly, too, because it is very small!

Have you met the future users to ensure that your drone is consistent with their needs?

Yes, of course. The GIGN (an élite SWAT unit—Ed.), DGA and MBDA France are represented on our steering committee. So we meet at least once a year to update them on our progress, gather their opinions and discuss the project’s evolution. These meetings are vital. For example, it is GIGN that suggested that we add a second camera for horizontal vision, which initially was not part of the project. It is important to be "connected" to the field to ensure meeting the needs of people who will actually use the drone.

And is it already flying?

Of course! The first flights were made on our premises north of Mulhouse, and really are very conclusive. We now only need to carry out the validation tests for the transition phase, that is to say the transition from projectile mode to drone mode. However, the St Louis Research Institute (ISL) * will complete this project using its own funds, since our contract with the ANR (National Research Agency), which partly funded this project, ran out in late 2013. But we are confident in the future, and we will not give up so close to the finish line. We expect to finalize our project in 2015 or 2016.

Drones are very newsworthy these days. Do you think we should further regulate their use?

I'm a bit skeptical about the widespread use of drones. While Amazon got the "buzz" with its advertising for home delivery by drone, such a machine is very difficult to maneuver, especially in cities, with their obstacles. And if there is wind, forget it. Let’s remember that these devices have certain dangers, especially if there is no emergency landing procedure. Today, regulations require not fly above an altitude of 150 meters. Relaxing this rule would be very risky, especially for aircraft. There are ongoing studies on this topic at the European level. In my opinion, the use of drones should be limited to police, fire fighters, the military ... For sure, the pictures taken on the Tour de France are incredibly beautiful, but are they really necessary? And what would people say, if a drone caused an accident?

* The Saint Louis Research Institute is jointly maintained by the French and German defense ministries.