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The Drone Index: Selex ES Falco EVO

April 18, 2016

Italian Falco UAV 01

The twin-boom Falco Evo manufactured by Finmeccanica-Selex ES represents a confidence boosting upgrade for Italy’s darling in the global UAV market. Even without a lethal reputation or a trail of publicity the Falco’s success is a positive sign for Europe’s sluggish drone exports. It doesn’t hurt that it has already seen its fair share of combat as a surveillance and intelligence platform.

The original Falco had a protracted development cycle that almost lasted a decade. The final prototype was unveiled in 2008 and it completed flight tests the following year before limited sales abroad. It wasn’t until 2011 that the improved Falco Evo was unveiled at the Paris Air Show and this particular model has since become a familiar sight in major aerospace and defense exhibitions.

The Falco Evo was necessitated by the original’s rather limited capabilities. Despite its size and performance the Falco hardly qualifies as a peer to MALE UAVs such as the Predator B or the Hermes 900. It’s classified instead as a “Medium Altitude Endurance” aircraft, meaning it can soar but not for very long.

MALE UAV’s, on the other hand, have generous ceilings in the 20,000 feet range and–thanks to avionics and satellites–are suited for day-long missions in isolated geographies.

Finmeccanica was very careful about divulging the Falco’s customers and it took a while until its client pool emerged. Its earliest foreign operator was Pakistan who wanted to use the Falco as a test bed for its own domestic UAV program. It appears a technology transfer deal was agreed on in 2009 and Pakistan’s state-owned aerospace sector assembled Falco UAVs soon after.

Italian Falco UAV 03

Significant demand emerged from the Middle East where Lebanon, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia quickly snapped up small batches of Falcos for their security needs. Gas-rich and very secretive Turkmenistan outed itself as a Falco operator when the UAV appeared aboard a flatbed truck during its 20th Independence Day parade.

Even the United Nations (UN) was impressed by the Falco’s merits and acquired less than a handful in 2013 to assist its peacekeeping and humanitarian operations.

In 2012 Finmeccanica-Selex ES debuted the Falco Evo and hinted at further upgrades that would result in an enlarged UAV comparable to the IAI Heron. Except for the announcement in 2015 of a hybrid engine the Falco Evo has attracted zero attention. The spread of domestic UAV programs is certainly hurting its chances at additional exports.

The Falco Evo’s appearance isn’t too out of the ordinary. It utilizes a twin-boom design with a 80 horsepower turbopropeller engine attached to the rear of the fuselage with shock absorbent tricycle landing gear.

The airframe is 17 ft long and six ft high. The Falco Evo’s wingspan is 24 ft. The engine type allows speeds reaching 200 kilometers per hour and a 16,400 ft ceiling.

The original Falco’s endurance reached 14 hours but the Falco Evo can remain airborne for 20 hours.

Italian Falco UAV 02

Finmeccanica SpA is the parent company of Selex ES, whose expertise in avionics allowed it to build an entire UAV product line flagshipped by the Falco Evo. Recognized as Italy’s leading aerospace firm and a multi-billion dollar defense contractor, in recent years Finmeccanica has struggled with controversy and protecting its market share. This prompted its rebranding as Leonardo SpA–after the renaissance genius–in January 2017 amid adjustments to its business model.