Royal Navy first as drone jets launch from aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales

BRITAIN’S newest aircraft carrier has become the first in its class to launch drone jets from its flight deck.

By Tom Cotterill
Wednesday, 29th September 2021, 1:39 pm

HMS Prince of Wales has been experimenting with ‘crewless’ fixed-wing drones, called the QinetiQ Banshee Jet 80+.

The jet-powered aircraft, which looks like a mini fighter aircraft, can soar 25,000ft, skim just above the waves, and flies at speeds of around 460mph.

It is hard to detect on radar, giving it all the likeness of an incoming missile – making it a realistic adversary for sailors to train in countering aerial threats.

Fixed-wing drones – called the QinetiQ Banshee Jet 80+ – flew from the carrier’s vast flight deck to study how they can be used to train personnel in defending against ever-more capable fast jets and missiles.

These drones could eventually be carried by Royal Navy warships and provide operational training to task groups across the globe, sharpening crews’ air defence skills.

The Banshee flights represent the first step for the Senior Service in exploring how crewless tech could be operated from the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers in the future.

‘There is a real need for a low-cost drone such as the Banshee that can replicate a range of the threats in the skies and provide a test bed for future payloads,’ said Commander Rob Taylor, lead for Royal Navy air test and evaluation group.

Sailors watch over the Banshee drone after it was set up on its launch platform on HMS Prince of Wales. Photo: LPhot Ben Corbett

‘The key to this is that a warship can carry this drone with it on operations, launch it and use it to keep personnel razor-sharp in countering threats from above.’

The demonstration with Portsmouth-based HMS Prince of Wales looked at how the drone and associated support equipment, including launcher, can be integrated within a busy ship and flight deck.

Flight Test Engineers and operators from QinetiQ, which owns and operates the Banshee, flew three of the air vehicles from the drone’s launcher on the Hebrides range off the northwest coast of Scotland.

Sailors oil up the launch platform used to deploy the Banshee drones from HMS Prince of Wales. Photo: LPhot Ben Corbett

The Banshee launched from the ship and recovered to land via parachute.

Cdr Taylor added the launch was the first step in a wider programme to work out how the navy will use aerial drones in the future.

‘The programme will look at rotary wing and fixed wing drones to fulfil a number of tasks to increase mass on the carriers and allow crewed aircraft to maximise their capacity,’ Cdr Taylor said.

‘The Banshee demonstration is just the start of the un-crewed autonomous systems programme of work for the Royal Navy.’

The Banshee could be used as training devices to hone the air defence skills of sailors in the Royal Navy

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HMS Prince of Wales’ new target drone, the Banshee, pictured front with an F-35 stealth jet in the rear.