Expodefensa 2023 – The Colombian Coelum UAV evolves towards VTOL operations

Douglas Hernández

Developed by the Corporación de la Industria Aeronáutica Colombiana, CIAC in short, part of the Social and Business Group of Defence (GSED), the Coelum UAV was unveiled some years ago and has since been tested operationally and has evolved towards an optional VTOL configuration, shown at Expodefensa 2023

In March 2009, a photograph was leaked showing an alleged “spy plane” shot down by the now disbanded FARC narcoterrorist group. That airframe was a Scan Eagle, an ART, the Colombian acronym for aeronave remotamente tripulada, an unmanned air vehicle that was secretly operated by the Colombian Air Force (FAC). From there it became clear that the Military and Police Forces were using this type of asset in their operations. The initial controversy resulted in the confirmation that it was indeed a “spy plane,” that it belonged to the FAC, and that the FARC had indeed shot it down.

Today the presence of UAVs in the Colombian Armed Forces is public and well-known, and these systems are usually exhibited at exhibitions, while some details of their operational use also came to light. At this time it is known that there are hundreds of UAVs of different makes and models operating in the country, and it is known that they have been tremendously effective in supporting military and police operations. A school for drone pilots and technicians has even been created within Colombian Aerospace Force.

In the process of continuous improvement of the defence sector, the Vice Ministry of the Social and Business Group of Defence (GSED), has been working for years to replace import systems with national ones to cope with the increasing demand, the Coelum project being framed in this context.

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The Coelum is a remotely manned, dual-use (military and civil) aircraft, designed and manufactured 100% in Colombia, allowing significant savings in logistical and operational costs. The platform has an autonomy of 60 minutes, thanks to its low energy consumption and high aerodynamic performance. It can carry out reconnaissance, intelligence, and surveillance missions of ground targets.

Its small size and low weight make it easy to transport, deploy and operate. It is ideal for small advanced reconnaissance groups. Its versatility allows it to be efficient in the most diverse missions, such as: highways monitoring, sensitive points and critical infrastructure, surveillance volcano surveillance, search and rescue operations in forested or desert areas, among others.

This mini-UAV can be launched by hand, but its most recent version has been equipped with booms under the wings that carry rotors front and rear, which allow it to ascend vertically by its own means, and then activate the propeller. It has a range of 10 to 15 kilometres around, and is recovered by parachute.

The Coelum is equipped with a day/night camera, which allows the operator and the commander of the supported unit to have a privileged view of the terrain around their position, enabling to identify at all times threats to personnel or targets and features helping to fulfil the unit mission, providing increased situational awareness, something impossible for units not equipped with such system.

The platform has a fairly silent motor and weighs approximately 5 kg, which makes it easy to transport in a simple and comfortable backpack. In transport mode the Coelum is disassembled, but it can be assembled and launched in just three minutes.

The units of the Colombian Armed Forces are being progressively equipped with drones of different ranges and capacities. The CIAC is aware of this need, and of the potential national and international market for this technology. For this reason, it has undertaken the development of UAVs of different ranges, by itself or in association with other actors, and among them we find the Coelum.

The latest version of the Coelum platform is the one exhibited at Expodefensa 2023, equipped with (optional) vertical takeoff capacity. The expectation is that the national demand for UAVs of this range will be covered with the CIAC Coelum, which has already reached sufficient maturity.

Photos by D. Hernández