Kawasaki's supercharged 1,000cc Ninja-copter drone lifts 440 pounds
Armed with a 300-horsepower, supercharged engine from Kawasaki's fearsome H2R hyperbike, the K-Racer X1 unmanned helicopter is an absolute beast of a cargo drone, the size of a small car. Watch it lifting a national-record weight in this new video.
Criminally insane motorcycles might be the company's best-known exports, but Kawasaki Heavy Industries has its fingers in many pies. Trains, monorails, large ships, submarines, industrial robotics, construction machinery, water treatment systems, wind turbines, bits and pieces for nuclear power plants – all contribute to an annual revenue around US$10 billion.
And so does aerospace. Kawasaki builds transports, trainer jets and helicopters for Japan's air force, as well as contributing to various civilian aviation programs and the Japanese space program.
The K-Racer cargo drone thus combines two of the company's portfolios, using a motorcycle engine in a helicopter. And not just any engine; the forced-induction combustion engine of choice here is one of the most magnificently unhinged motors ever unleashed on the motorcycle world, a fire-breathing beast allegedly capable of propelling the menacing H2R across bridges at more than 400 km/h (249 mph). Here, look:
Riding the dumbed-down, street legal H2 version of this bike was one of the most profoundly visceral experiences of my life. And the things that make it so dribblingly mental in a motorcycle frame – its light weight, compact form and ruthless production of power – also appear to make it well-suited to a small aircraft.
The K-Racer X1 made its debut in 2020, and we took another look in 2021 when Kawasaki tested it along with an autonomous robotic ground crew for loading and unloading these machines without exposing humans to their spinning blades.
Now, the company has upsized the concept and built an X2 model, taking the main rotor from 5 m to 7 m (16 to 23 ft) in diameter, and ditching the X1's interesting winged, dual horizontal prop design for a much more traditional helicopter airframe with a conventional tail rotor.
In doing so, it's doubled the original K-Racer's payload capacity, and the X2 can thus lift a remarkable 200 kg (440 lb) when operating at sea level. No top speed is specified, but Kawasaki says its range is around 100 km (62 miles), with a maximum endurance around an hour.
The K-Racer team recently went to its Fukushima Robot Test Field to prove that payload figure, hoisting a 200-kg crate at the end of a 15-m (49-ft) cable and demonstrating controlled, sustained flight, before "dropping off" the crate using an automated unloading system.
Kawasaki says this is the heaviest load ever lifted by a Japanese-designed UAV, and the company envisages it being used to deliver supplies to mountain cabins, or in disaster scenarios and other conditions where it'll be tough to move heavy cargo. Indeed, the company says it "will devote increased efforts toward the development of a mass-production version of the aircraft," so it clearly believes there's potential here.
Check out the heavy lift test below.