France joins the stealth drone club (updated)

Happy Monday. To kick this week off we thought we’d bring you these pictures showing that France has become the second (possibly third) nation in the world to (publicly) fly a stealth UAV. These images show Dassault’s nEUROn (yes, it’s really written that way) making its maiden flight in Istres on Dec. 1. UPDATE: The ...

Dassault Aviation
Dassault Aviation
Dassault Aviation

Happy Monday. To kick this week off we thought we'd bring you these pictures showing that France has become the second (possibly third) nation in the world to (publicly) fly a stealth UAV. These images show Dassault's nEUROn (yes, it's really written that way) making its maiden flight in Istres on Dec. 1.

UPDATE: The Brits may have beaten France to the stealth Drone club a few years ago with BAE's little known Corax program. Read about the possibly stealthy Corax here.

Now, just because the nEUROn has flown, it doesn't mean that France is about to catch the U.S., which has been flying stealthy drone test jets since the 1990s and operating Lockheed Martin's stealthy RQ-170 in combat for at least a half-decade. nEUROn is a technology demonstrator; basically it's a plane used to prove that all the tech Dassault has designed for a stealth, unmanned strike jet will actually work. (To be fair, the nEUROn is significantly more advanced than the U.S.' first stealthy UAVs.)

Happy Monday. To kick this week off we thought we’d bring you these pictures showing that France has become the second (possibly third) nation in the world to (publicly) fly a stealth UAV. These images show Dassault’s nEUROn (yes, it’s really written that way) making its maiden flight in Istres on Dec. 1.

UPDATE: The Brits may have beaten France to the stealth Drone club a few years ago with BAE’s little known Corax program. Read about the possibly stealthy Corax here.

Now, just because the nEUROn has flown, it doesn’t mean that France is about to catch the U.S., which has been flying stealthy drone test jets since the 1990s and operating Lockheed Martin’s stealthy RQ-170 in combat for at least a half-decade. nEUROn is a technology demonstrator; basically it’s a plane used to prove that all the tech Dassault has designed for a stealth, unmanned strike jet will actually work. (To be fair, the nEUROn is significantly more advanced than the U.S.’ first stealthy UAVs.)

Just last week — around the time China was conducting its first-ever carrier landings and takeoffs — the U.S. Navy hoisted its X-47B tech demonstrator aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman in preparation for flight tests next year. The X-37B is a stealthy fighter-sized drone designed to prove that the sea service can operate an autonomous UAV from its carriers. That’s right, the U.S. is about to start testing one of the most advanced aircraft in the world performing one of the most difficult tasks in aviation. X-47B is a precursor to something called Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) — a stealthy, semi-autonomous, carrier-launched UAV that can do everything from air-to-air refueling to spy missions and bomb runs against ground targets.

Here are some stats about nEUROn from Dassault:

With a length of 10 meters, a wingspan of 12.5 meters and an empty weight of 5 tons, the aircraft is powered by a Rolls-Royce Turbomeca “Adour” engine. 

The nEUROn will continue to undergo testing in France until 2014, at which time it will be sent to Vidsel in Sweden for a series of operational trials. It will then go to the Perdadesfogu range (Italy) for further tests, in particular firing and stealth measurements.

Much like the X-47B, the nEUROn is designed to prove the tech behind a stealthy strike fighter. That last sentence from Dassault’s press release points out that the jet will be dropping bombs as part of its flight testing.

The U.S. and France aren’t the only countries making stealth drones. U.K.-based BAE Systems is hard at work producing the Taranis, while Russia’s MiG is trying to field a stealth UAV called the Skat, seriously. Meanwhile, you can bet China will unveil a stealth UAV in the near future.

John Reed is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He comes to FP after editing Military.com’s publication Defense Tech and working as the associate editor of DoDBuzz. Between 2007 and 2010, he covered major trends in military aviation and the defense industry around the world for Defense News and Inside the Air Force. Before moving to Washington in August 2007, Reed worked in corporate sales and business development for a Swedish IT firm, The Meltwater Group in Mountain View CA, and Philadelphia, PA. Prior to that, he worked as a reporter at the Tracy Press and the Scotts Valley Press-Banner newspapers in California. His first story as a professional reporter involved chasing escaped emus around California’s central valley with Mexican cowboys armed with lassos and local police armed with shotguns. Luckily for the giant birds, the cowboys caught them first and the emus were ok. A New England native, Reed graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a dual degree in international affairs and history.

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