Hybrid drone aims for the best of both worlds
What do you get when you cross a plane with a blimp? A Plimp. That's not a joke, it's what the thing is actually called. Manufactured by Seattle-based Egan Airships, the 28-ft (8.5-m) unmanned aircraft has a helium-filled envelope allowing for blimp-like buoyancy, while its winged rigid body allows it to travel quick-ish like a conventional drone.
When the Plimp is taking off and landing – or just hovering on the spot – its two wings rotate so that the electric motors/propellers are facing straight up. This allows it to move vertically. Once it's time to get a move on, however, the wings rotate into a more airplane-like orientation, in which the props are facing forward. In this mode, it can achieve a maximum speed of 40 mph (64 km/h) with at least one hour of flight time depending on payload.
Should the motors conk out, the sub-55-lb (25-kg) Plimp won't just plummet from the sky. Thanks to the buoyancy of its envelope and the lift provided by its wings, it can reportedly glide down at a speed of 9 mph (14 km/h).
That big envelope also makes it highly visible. According to the company, this factor should ensure that pilots of other aircraft see it, and thus avoid colliding with it. Additionally, its size allows its ground-based operator to keep it in line of sight for a distance of up to 3 miles (5 km).
Suggested applications for the Plimp include advertising, surveying/mapping, surveillance, inspection, and aerial cinematography. Plans call for it to be commercially available by the first quarter of next year.
You can see it in flight, and hear from its twin-brother designers James and Joel Egan, in the following video. And yes, there are hopes for a larger passenger-carrying version.