iX challenge: Autonomous forward motion or hover air vehicle concepts to be launched from rotary wing platforms

The Innovation Exchange Programme is working with Leonardo UK Ltd Helicopters Division to help them identify forward motion or hover air vehicle concepts that can be launched from rotary wing platforms.

Opportunity Details


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Commercial opportunity to enhance access to market. Potential guidance from Leonardo UK Ltd Helicopters Division. Support from KTN & Innovate UK.

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Leonardo UK Ltd Helicopters Division (LHUK) is seeking to understand the potential to deliver or contribute to the delivery of capability through the deployment of drones / UAV’s defined in defence terms as Air Launched Effects (ALE). These would be launched (and recovered) from existing and future rotary wing platforms, both crewed and uncrewed, and utilise emergent teaming & swarming technologies.

Technologies of interest are forward motion or hover air vehicles capable of being launched from rotary winged platforms.

This challenge is an opportunity for those with potential solutions that meet either all or part of the challenge (either individually or collaboratively), to present their concepts to LHUK for consideration to participate in a 4-year programme of work to develop their solutions concluding with a demonstration in a realistic environment.


The concept of teaming between crewed and uncrewed aircraft and advanced teaming concepts are developing at pace; numerous activities have taken place in the UK and around the world which have demonstrated the benefits of such teaming in terms of extending the effects deliverable by crewed aircraft.

LHUK seeks to identify potential air-launched effects (ALE) air vehicle concepts that can meet the defined need whilst being capable of deployment from rotary wing platforms.

The Challenge

The drone challenge has two key challenge elements:

  1. The vehicle must be able to be launched and take flight from the helicopter from the standard holding methods of any supplementary kit that may include external clamping systems or launch tubes. The vehicle must be able to recover quickly from any wash from the helicopter and be able to then move on autonomously.
  2. The Drone would need to be based on autonomous or similar control systems that may include teaming or swarm systems. It would also be desirable for the management of the ALE to have systems that allow it to be managed in many different scenarios including independent, ground-based, or helicopter assisted.

Leonardo would be interested if one or more companies came together to provide both hardware and software or the parts separately.

Technical Details

ALE will serve as force multipliers through the enhancement of capability by delivering scalable detect, disrupt, decoy and kinetic capabilities. By way of guidance, the following features are of interest to the challenge holder but are not mandatory at this stage.

Air launched effect with the following (target) features:

  • Maximum All Up Mass: c15kg +/- 5kg
  • Payload: up to 5kg
  • Endurance: minimum 2 hours
  • Range: minimum 100 miles
  • Speed: Cruise 60kts IAS/Dash >90kts IAS
  •  C2: transferable between air assets and surface / ground assets
  • Deployment height: minimum 100ft AGL to maximum 15,000ft AGL

There will be opportunities to study the effects of an air-launch with potential of managing the escape from any rotor wash alongside LHUK with simulation techniques.


Air platform solutions shall be capable of hosting interchangeable payloads, including but not limited to:

  • Full Motion Video
  • Electronic Intelligence, Reconnaissance, Surveillance (ISR)


If successful, LHUK will work with potential partners to develop and mature solutions in years 2 – 3 of the programme resulting in the identification of those solutions to be taken in to the subsequent demonstration programme (years 4 – 5).

Rewards & Benefits

Rewards and benefits available to selected organisations include:

  • Opportunity to work with the UK only onshore military rotary wing OEM
  • Support to develop ALE solutions to a level of maturity appropriate for demonstration
  • Commercialisation opportunities

Additional funding opportunities for the most promising potential solutions may exist.


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