Cormorant (née AirMule) unmanned VTOL aircraft expands flight envelope

Tactical Robotics' Cormorant UAV (formerly known as the AirMule) has spent the Israeli summer being tested

After its maiden untethered flight last December, the Cormorant (formerly known as the AirMule) unmanned VTOL aircraft from Israel-based Tactical Robotics' has now spent much of the summer in the air as the company tests its performance in different conditions and with various modifications. With both military and commercial applications ultimately in mind, the company has gradually expanded the flight envelope of the prototype in recent tests.

The AirMule first caught our eye in 2013, when it took to the skies (albeit on a leash) in a series of automated test flights. Tactical Robotics designed the craft for cargo delivery, humanitarian relief efforts and to carry wounded or sick people from the battlefield or other emergency situations. Its small size and Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) capabilities let it operate in places that regular helicopters just can't reach

With a projected payload size of up to 500 kg (1,102 lb) over distances of 50 km (31 miles), the Cormorant could one day operate as an aerial freighter in the commercial sector, carting goods between ports and distribution centers. From there, smaller delivery drones could make the last mile run of individual orders to customers' doors.

The latest tests indicate the Cormorant is making progress down the path to that future, with autonomous navigation and the Automatic Take-Off and Landing (ATOL) functions now standard procedure on all flights. Tactical Robotics has been testing new systems that improve the UAV's flight control and sensors, and are busy backing up the craft's critical systems with a full redundancy scheme, to keep it flying in case something goes wrong.

Current tests have seen the craft at airspeeds of 55.6 km/h (34.5 mph), but future tests will gently ramp that up towards an expected maximum of 180 km/h (111.8 mph), while sending it out over nearby fields on full pattern flights.

You can see the Cormorant in action in the video below.

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