Dassault Aviation and the French Armed Forces’ Aircraft Maintenance Division (DMAé ) are Integrating Drone Inspections

Since 2019, the Aircraft Maintenance Division has entrusted manufacturer Dassault Aviation with the vertical agreement on life-cycle maintenance for Rafale aircraft (MCO Ravel). Under this contract, Dassault Aviation and the Aircraft Maintenance Division are implementing the AirScan automated airframe inspection service, of which Donecle drones are a cornerstone. This solution simplifies the visual inspection of Rafale aircraft for the French Air and Space Force (AAE) and the French Navy.

It is the result of close collaboration between Dassault Aviation and Donecle for the development and operational validation of AirScan, a service that combines Donecle’s automated drones and artificial intelligence algorithms with Dassault Aviation’s technical expertise and software solutions.

Donecle and Dassault Aviation have been working on the use of drones for airframe inspections for the past five years, and currently cover the Rafale, the Atlantique 2 and the Falcon family. In 2020, an initial agreement was signed to develop and test the solution on the Rafale as part of the aircraft’s “F4 standard” modernisation programme. This was carried out under the supervision of the French Defence Procurement Agency (DGA). Under this contract, the drones were deployed on a trial basis at various air and naval bases, in order to identify constraints and refine user requirements. The next stage of the program saw the development of a navalized drone kit to enable autonomous drones to be used on board the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier during operational missions. After two sea trials, these developments validated the drones’ ability to inspect Rafale airframes at sea — a world first,” said Matthieu Claybrough, Donecle’s CEO. “The order received under the Ravel contract marks both the success of several years of collaborative development and the start of our drones’ operational service for the French armed forces. The size and duration of this contract reflect the confidence in and benefits of AirScan. This announcement will no doubt contribute to our growing reputation, as this success consolidates our strong expansion, including in the defence sector.”

Under this contract, around ten drone kits will be distributed between the various Rafale bases and the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier. The integration of these technologies is helping to digitise maintenance, with the AirScan service gradually linking up with the various systems already in place.

This major step forward is part of a shared commitment by Dassault Aviation and the Aircraft Maintenance Division to further improve aircraft availability for the French armed forces.

“Our duty as defence contractors is to support our armed forces. The vertical agreements underpinning these life-cycle contracts are based on the principles of a single prime contractor, comprehensive services and a long service life,” Bruno Chevalier, Senior Executive Vice President, Military Customer Support at Dassault Aviation, said. “They reflect a strong commitment to the long-term availability of fleets and the support system. We need to modernize our resources if we are to meet this commitment, and it is essential that we bring our capacity for innovation to our armed forces. This first contract for the AirScan service on the Rafale paves the way for the modernization of resources and services deployed on other Dassault Aviation aircraft, whether civil or military.”