Engineers from BAE Systems together with students from Cranfield University, have revealed a new technology concept – named Adaptable UAVs – which can alternate between the two different flight modes in the same mission.

When in rotary wing mode the UAVs can be launched and recovered from battlefields and docked on a special pole.

The Adaptable UAVs are a hybrid between fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, and would use adaptive flight control and advanced navigation and guidance software, which would allow the aircraft to benefit from the greater speed and range afforded to fixed-wing aircraft, before alternating to rotary-wing mode to hover and achieve vertical take-off and landing.

According to BAE Systems:

“This novel technology could allow UAVs to better adapt to evolving future battlefield situations and through working together in a swarm, tackle sophisticated air defences, as well as operating in complex and cluttered urban environments.

In the rotary wing mode of flight, the Adaptable UAVs can be easily and safely launched and recovered using a range of vehicles in dangerous environments that might be cluttered by personnel, other aircraft or vehicles. The pole constrains the lateral or sideways movement of the UAV when being launched or recovered so strong winds cannot dislodge them and avoids any damage to personnel nearby.

This is particularly important when recovering a UAV to the aft of a ship or a land vehicle. The pole’s gyro-stabilised element also ensures that it remains upright independently of the host vehicle’s orientation, which may be rolling if on a ship, or in the case of a land vehicle driving up or down a slope at the time of the launch or recovery.”

“The battlefield of the future will require novel solutions to meet emerging threats and to keep human operators safe wherever they may be’,” said Professor Nick Colosimo, BAE Systems’ Futurist and Technologist. “The Adaptable UAVs concept and related technologies are one of a number of concepts being explored through close collaboration between industry and students in academia.”

Professor Antonios Tsourdos, Head of the Centre for Autonomous and Cyber-Physical Systems at Cranfield University, said:

“Working with BAE Systems on the Cranfield University MSc in Autonomous Vehicle Dynamics & Control has provided a great opportunity for the students and research staff to explore a range of novel concepts and technologies.”

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More CGI and sketches from BAE, do they have actually anything that is REAL ? It reminds me of the auto sector, producing drawing after drawing of outrageous looking concept cars that come to absolutely nothing.


I firmly believe the age of manned flight is coming to an end. There will always be a need for some manned missions, but the fleets will be much smaller. The real propellant behind such a dramatic change will be costs. To put it simply, conventional aircraft such as F35 will be too expensive even for the big players like US, China, and Russia by say 2030/40’s. As for everyone else, the price per unit will be prohibitive, resulting in smaller manned and increased automated drone systems of various size and function. Basically, the drone will form the backbone of… Read more »


I agree. When considering costs you need to factor in not only purchase price but also running costs. I would expect both pilot training and pay would be cheaper for drone pilots than in-situ pilots especially as drones get more and more on-board autonomous systems, and also the issues of keeping pilots current via sufficient real and simulated flying hours; again, in both cases I expect this would be something that would be cheaper for unmanned systems vs F35/Typhoon/etc pilots.


As our American friends say,’Out of harm’s way’ must have a significant impact on drone pilot pay structures. Keeping frontline pilots and navigators must weigh heavily on RAF budgets. The current process of pilot training must contribute to further cost that would otherwise go toward buying more drone capability. Drone pilots won’t come cheap either, they too need training but again, would be considerably cheaper than burning thousands of gallons of aviation fuel in the process. I’m not privy to drone operational shortfalls, and where only a manned planes can operate, but the burning question remains, what are the alternatives?… Read more »


Yes, the training and flight-hours thing is interesting. For an in-situ pilot it’s all very well doing lots of simulator hours but that is still no substitute for the real thing because that’s the only way to add the stress of knowing that if something bad happens to the plane then something bad happens to you. For drone pilots the simulator could be the exact same chair that they sit in to fly combat or training missions, the only difference being whether the sensor imagery and pilot control inputs are being generated/processed by a real drone or by a computer… Read more »

nigel foster

True – but don’t tell the RAF. Without manned combat aircraft, they have no reason to exist as a separate service.

Dave Branney

In a post earlier I intimated that a QE class carrier with a mixed fleet of manned/unmanned aircraft will be best for peer vs peers scenarios. I still firmly believe that politicians will be blinded by science and the supposedly massive cost savings of binning manned fighter/strike aircraft. The manufacturers will be advertising the mission capabilities, extended loiter times and low operating costs of the new wonder weapon. Duncan Sandys, the 1957 Defence Minister, whose infamous white paper not only destroyed the British Aircraft Industry but more importantly decreed that all manned fighter aircraft would be replaced by missiles. This… Read more »


My comments above brings into question affordability of manned aircraft. Will there even be the luxury of operating them for many nations around the world? Currently, the sheer enormity of meeting F35 development, manufacturing, and purchase costs is rapidly making such aircraft unattractive for many. Grand plans to order sizeable fleets of F35 for RAF and Royal Navy suddenly hit a wall, and slowly but surely the MOD began to disclose fleet expectations were to be revisited downwards due to unit affordability. Project ourselves forward fifteen to twenty years, and imagine the task of developing a F35 replacement? As I… Read more »

Dave Branney

Perhaps the answer would be a technology mix of high tech drones and low tech manned aircraft that act as the controller from a stand-off distance. Although, take the “man” out of a F35 and it is still a mega expensive bit of kit.


I think you are absolutely right however, manufacturers must remain cognizant that any price spiraling on drone development, has to be capped in some form or other. At the end of the day, drones should always win over manned jets on costs and ease of operation. All we need to make this work are thousands of people willing to sit in a dark room and fly aircraft without leaving their seats.


Do a google on:
6th Generation Hypersonic Stealth Fighter Concept Unveiled
in which to see the BAE video on how small the above UAV really is.


Wow! Thanks for that. I love the way the sub collects them.