Sun Dec 2, 2012 3:5PM
A prototype of a European stealth combat drone dubbed “Neuron” has made its maiden flight from a base in the southern French city of Istres. The aircraft, which has no vertical tail in order to make it as furtive as possible, flew for 25 minutes on Saturday under the watch of two test pilots based on the ground. “It inaugurates the next generation of combat aircraft, whether piloted or not, with the ambition of preserving European autonomy in this field,” the French defense ministry said in a statement. The statement added, “It’s a major accomplishment on both the technological and industrial levels.” French defense company Dassault Aviation is lead contractor on the “Neuron” project, which was launched in 2005. Firms from France, Italy, Sweden, Spain, Greece and Switzerland have participated in the project. The program cost 406 million euros ($527 million), of which France contributed about half. Many experts believe armed drones will play an increasing role in the future of air combat. “Today nobody imagines a future with planes without pilots,” Dassault’s technical director general Eric Gondoin said. MP/JR