Details of successful first test flight of Taranis UCAV demonstrator revealed


February 5, 2014

The Taranis test flight was at an undisclosed location outside the UK

The Taranis test flight was at an undisclosed location outside the UK

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The UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) and BAE Systems this week announced details of last year's first test flight of the Taranis unmanned combat demonstrator aircraft, which BAE bills as the "most advanced aircraft ever built by British engineers." The 15-minute test flight took place at an undisclosed location outside of the UK on August 10, 2013 as part of a project to show the UK’s ability to create a unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) capable of surveillance, targeting, intelligence gathering, deterrence, and strikes in hostile territory.

One of Britain’s most closely guarded military secrets, Taranis has been sheathed in secrecy from the start with access to it and its technology strictly limited. Even getting a good look at it has been difficult as BAE explains that many aspects of the craft’s technology, shape, design, and even finish, remain classified, as does any exact information on its performance. However, at a press briefing on Monday, BAE and the MoD said that Taranis "surpassed all expectations" during the flight tests.

First unveiled to the public in July 2010, the top-secret drone is the product of 250 British companies led by BAE and partners including Rolls-Royce, the Systems division of GE Aviation, QinetiQ, and MoD military staff. Named after the Celtic god of thunder, it is about the size of a Hawk fighter with a 10 m (33 ft) wingspan, and boasts state-of-the-art stealth, propulsion, and aerospace technology. It’s been under development since 2006, has consumed £185 million (US$300 million) in public and private funds, and one-and-a-half-million man hours.

August’s tests were carried out under the command of BAE Systems’ test pilot Bob Fraser with piloting by Neil Dawson. During the 15-minute maiden flight, Taranis made a perfect take-off, rotation, climb-out and landing. Other flights of up to one-hour's duration at various altitudes and speeds followed.

These flights were proceeded by earlier static power tests, unmanned pilot training, radar cross section measurements, and ground station system integration carried out at BAE’s military aircraft factory at Warton in Lancashire. The Taranis and its ground station were then shipped to the overseas test location for a series of high speed taxi tests in July before its maiden flight.

Taranis was designed to demonstrate that the UK has the required knowledge and expertise to produce an unmanned combat aircraft that could one day conduct precision strikes over a long range whilst remaining undetected. BAE says that Taranis will help the MoD and the Royal Air Force to decide on how to mix manned and unmanned fast jets in a combat role as part of Britain’s defenses.

"Taranis is providing vital insights that will help shape future capabilities for our Armed Forces in coming decades," said Philip Dunne, Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology. "Its advanced technology is testament to the UK’s world leading engineering skills that keep Britain at the cutting edge of defense."

The video below features the Taranis test flight.

Source: BAE Systems

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

just a little to obvious if they called it the Tyrannus


What an unfortunate choice of name.

Tar"a*nis\, n. [L. taranis, from the Celtic; cf. W. & Corn. taran thunder.] (Myth.) A Celtic divinity, regarded as the evil principle, but confounded by the Romans with Jupiter.

Anne Ominous

One wonders at exactly what threats there are out in the big outside world that necessitates such an expenditure. If the enemy is a large one, the U.K. is not going to fight the good fight on its own, that's why it is a member of NATO. And anyway, a large enemy is almost guaranteed to be equipped with nuclear weapons, either overtly or covertly.

If the enemy is a small one, we have Trident, which without any warheads can be equipped with sufficient technology to place all of its 60,000 kilos travelling at 15,000 mph on any target with extreme precision. That would release sufficient energy to do a great deal of damage. That should be sufficient to bring the parties to any conflict situation to the negotiating table. And if not, then put a warhead on one. Or would that give the lie to the idea that nuclear weapons are a deterrent.

In short, the U.K. has better uses for its money than on designing and developing killing machines like this weapon. When it ceases to have large numbers of people needing food banks, when it has enough money to bring the National Health Service back to its past glory, when its people can be said to be generally happy with their lot and not living in dread of becoming homeless or living in dread of the next energy bills, then, and only then, will it make sense to spend money on projects such as this. It already spends more than is sensible on defence.

Britain needs to realise that its Empire is over - it really is about time.

Mel Tisdale

I'll bet good money the testing facility was Woomera.

Scott Nicolson

Fantastic, the killing robots have arrived. Coupled with all the advanced manufacturing robots which are eliminating good-paying human jobs, a keen time to be a man.


What a waste of resources! While our only habitat is deteriorating the war machine pushes for more and more of these high-tech gadgets. It just doesn't add up. Without a healthy habitat nothing else matters. If the funds that are spent on keeping us on a war footing were invested in shifting to sustainable generation and use of energy we could solve the climate change crisis and stop putting our future generations at risk.

Phillip Noe

The F35 is now obsolete

Len Simpson

Mel, first, Great Britain is not Denmark, or some small county only known of by the few people living the next few towns over. Second, the short & simple is that having more flexibility is always better than having less. Third, firing off Tridents is pricey. Also these aircraft are very hard to shoot down, hence they typically should a very good combat lifespan. Fourth, security today is based upon collective security principals first defined by President Wilson. Rejecting those collective security principals is one of the leading reasons for WWII. Is there really a good reason to relearn that lesson?


The Rise of the Machines.


Give a good fighter pilot an F-22 and put five of these drones in the sky and the pilot will become an ace-in-a-day. The most important aspect of dog fighting is situational awareness and sitting at a computer monitor is rather limited compared to actually being in the environment.

James Pratt

Looks like a knockoff of the X-47B. Can this thing fly autonomously like the X-47B?


the payload of a Trident missile is far less than the 60klbs liftoff weight. Probably no more than 2000 lbs, depending on version. Any launch of a Trident is going to be assumed by everyone else (Russia, China, France) to be a nuclear strike.

Taranis might be a very good system. Given the fubars in the US system, it may be better than X-47B.

I suspect it will have advantages and disadvantages.

Greg Ewing

...oh good! Another remote controlled killing machine. Just what us hoomums need most right now.

Mike vC

It's very beautiful and menacing.

Re:Scott Nicolson yep :)

Re:James P Pratt Yes, for now, and like any good learning machine, not forever. Give it more eyes and a bigger database and in time will gain the equivalent of an intuition. We're just not there yet. Its still a baby

Re: Greg Ewing Nobody said the design cannot be scaled up. The bigger version might just be a suitable bomber replacement. Equally a swarm of 3m across ones might just be the key to guarding said bomber from F22s/F35s.


The military industrial complex lives on, despite the fact that no enemy exists that would be worthy of such technology. The enemies have changed, the cold war is over. Equality and fairness should be the weapons the military uses, not bombs and bullets!

It is amazing to see how easily the democracies of the world are lead to believing the need for such death machines. Fear sells apparently, that and, no one is asking a democracy if its a good idea to spend 25 to 50% of its governance allowance on war.

Perhaps, the world will wake up to the death march it is on, although I fear not until most of the world experiences suffering much longer and deeper than currently exists.

I dare the warmongers to make an economic argument that justifies this investment in this fear and death military industrial complex.


Spot on Scott! Woomera ( Lat 31° 8'8.24"S Lon 136°48'49.85"E ) - you can see runway 18 etc in the video when it lands at 1:18 :-)

1.5 million man hours - that's keeping a lot of people employed, and I bet those hours don't come close to the hours spent by swathes of different suppliers.

We've got 7+ billion on earth. That number is going to keep on growing until "shit happens" - no well-meaning greenies or anti-war protesters are going to make any noticeable dent in that fact. We're biologically predisposed to wanting kids, and we're also biologically driven to eat cooked food and keep warm. Every 4 months, the same number of new people are born now, as were killed in all of world war 2. Nothing anyone can do will prevent the catastrophe that's on it's way, but, that doesn't mean we shouldn't prepare.


What a waste. If Britain has this technology then why not invest it in the future? And the future is Space. The rest of the world realises this and is investing heavily. Our very survival depends on how we come to terms with this new technology not just out among the planets but here on Earth. Weapons of destruction equals a dead end not the future.

Terence Munro

How do you equate "preparing" with building more weapons of destruction Christopher? Thats like trying to douse a fire with petrol given the means we already have at our disposal. I agree that a catastrophe is indeed on the way which means it's vital we use all the means at our disposal to reduce the impact .Surely world wide dialogue to consider options and focus is preferable to well meaning "sabre rattlers".

Terence Munro

@Terence - I don't think you quite grasp the scale of the problem. 7.2 billion is a big number. very big. Aside from the problem that you'll never manage "world wide dialogue" anyhow - even if you could (which you can't), you're not going to be able to convince any meaningful number of those 7211842802++ people to stop reproducing.

What you can do, is prepare for how to defend when the inevitable happens (tens of billions of displaced starving peoples is a pretty ugly problem).

If that doesn't depress you enough - try this: this UCAC is operated by UK public servants - google "fracking dui" to watch a video of them in action.


Way to go Britain. Cost of about £ 120/- per man hour for a fully developed and working aircraft is peanuts compared to similar costs in the US. If you look back, most of the technological innovations have their origins in defense contracts. This is also one way of telling the US rulers to f*o, they are not big brothers any more. About time someone did.

Regardless of all the posturing they don't have the balls to touch either North Korea or China.


Wow, the ignorance of history displayed here is overwhelming. Does anyone here remember the Falkland war with Argentina? If the U.K. had a weak military the U.K. citizens on the Falklands would have been forcefully removed from their property and the U.K. would have cowered and looked very weak to any future opponents.

Most wars are the result of showing weakness to a potential enemy. A strong military PREVENTS war. Just look at the weakness displayed by the U.K, France and America before and during the beginning of WW2. Did that do much good? Neville Chamberlain's attempt to appease the Germans did a lot of good didn't it? And America's attempt to remain neutral made the war last much longer and bloodier than it should have been. Had we supplied the U.K when they asked for help and fought the Germans with them sooner the war would have been over much sooner with a far fewer number of dead and injured. And who thinks the Soviet Union would not have slaughtered us with nukes if we had none?

And comparing an F22 against this plane? The Taranis isn't designed for dogfighting, to suggest so is plain dumb. You could compare the F22 to ANY other aircraft and come to the same conclusion. Should we just stop building any kind of military aircraft because an F22 could shoot them down? Do we stop building the F35 because it will lose to a F22 anytime. This aircraft will do many types of sorties without putting a pilot at risk. And most of those sorties won't see a F22 anywhere close by. I don't know why a F22 pilot would shoot down an allies' plane anyway.


Re:maak "And most of those sorties won't see a F22 anywhere close by. I don't know why a F22 pilot would shoot down an allies' plane anyway."

Because if a dog is hungry enough it will eat its own young.

How can we predict our future aggressor. The UN is falling. Old allies aren't. Better to be prepared and independent. I think the UK is striving for this.


Maak states: "Most wars are the result of showing weakness to a potential enemy."

Really? Is that how the US got into war with Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan? Because they showed weakness to a country with 1/10th their war capacity?

You may want to check your history. When a mindset is dominated with military might, options all look like easy victories. Just look at the American Revolution. England had the might. What they didn't recognize was that subduing willfulness will never ever lead to victory.


@James Pratt

A lot about the Taranis is highly classified including the fact that the drone is FULLY autonomous with air combat capabilities, news reports have wrongly described the engineering marvel as a 'stealth bomber', wrong. The Taranis is both fully a fully-stealthed air combat drone (the first of its kind) and a stealth bomber. As for someone suggesting that it is a 'knock-off' of the X35 that couldn't be further from the truth, the Brits have been developing the Taranis for over 30 years. People should read up on the Rolls Royce Nene, that jet technology has been the basis of ALL fighters Chinese, Russian and American. The Brits also gave the US the technology to pass the sound barrier and to build the bomb. It's time we give them the respect they are due.

Stephen Page
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