Fixed-wing drones – called the QinetiQ Banshee Jet 80+ – flew from the carrier’s vast flight deck to assess how they might be used to train personnel in defending against ever-more-capable fast jets and missiles.
The jet-powered Banshee, which looks like a mini fighter aircraft, can soar to 25,000ft, skim just above the waves, and flies at speeds up to 400 knots (around 460 mph).
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.
These drones could eventually be carried by Royal Navy warships and provide operational training to task groups wherever they might be in the world, allowing them to conduct air defence exercises on demand to test reactions and hone responses. And the Banshee’s carrying capacity means the Royal Navy can use it for testing future sensors, weaponry and radio equipment.
HMS Prince of Wales is the first Royal Navy ship to carry these drones for demonstration purposes, as she moves towards being fully operational.
The Banshee flights represent the first step for the Royal Navy 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.
“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 ability to adapt the payload for differing tasks is also crucial to provide value for money and interoperability across the fleet…”