Drones

VTOL Kestrel drone morphs into fixed-wing aircraft after takeoff

VTOL Kestrel drone morphs into...
The VTOL Kestrel drone on show at CES 2016
The VTOL Kestrel drone on show at CES 2016
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The VTOL Kestrel drone on show at CES 2016
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The VTOL Kestrel drone on show at CES 2016
The Kestrel transitions into a fixed-wing flight mode once it gets into the air
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The Kestrel transitions into a fixed-wing flight mode once it gets into the air
The dual-mode Kestrel drone is targeted at agricultural and humanitarian operations
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The dual-mode Kestrel drone is targeted at agricultural and humanitarian operations
The Kestrel has a range of up to 62 miles (100 km) and a top speed of 40 m/h (64 km/h)
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The Kestrel has a range of up to 62 miles (100 km) and a top speed of 40 m/h (64 km/h)

Nearly all drones currently fall into one of two categories: they are either fixed wing, which means their wings are rigid like an airplane, or they use rotary wings like a helicopter. Fixed-wing drones tend to have longer range and greater carrying capacity than the rotary-wing variety, but they lack the ability to takeoff and land vertically. For humanitarian and agricultural use, the strengths of both types are crucial. It's no surprise, then, that drone maker Autel Robotics has developed a tiltrotor unmanned aircraft that can takeoff vertically and transition into a fixed-wing flight mode once it gets into the air.

The dual-mode Kestrel drone is targeted at agricultural and humanitarian operations, both of which often lack safe space for traditional takeoff and landing. It has a range of up to 62 miles (100 km) and a top speed of 40 m/h (64 km/h), with flight time of 1.2 to 2 hours. The tail and nose sections can separate for transport.

And while its 4.4 lb (2 kg) payload may not sound like much, it's enough to carry essential care packages to people stuck in disaster areas. Indeed, drones used in the Syrian Airlift Project to carry supplies to civilians and aid groups have a similar carrying capacity.

The VTOL Kestrel drone also supports automatically-generated flight routes and a redundant safety system that's meant to guide it safely to the ground (as a glider) if the motors fail. And it includes infrared multispectral sensors for crop monitoring and evaluation.

The drone was revealed at CES this week. It's expected to be available in March 2017, with pricing yet to be announced.

Source: Autel Robotics

5 comments
HensleyBeuronGarlington
That's a much more simple approach than rotating entire wings I think, but I'm no engineer. I assume this could also be more complicated because its looks like bending an engine in half. Similar, albeit in propeller form, to the Joint Strike Fighter's Marine variant VTOL, with a jet thruster shaft (whatever that's called) bending down. Though, that's a much different and extreme version of this. Will we ever see drones that look more like the Hunter Killer drones from the "Terminator" films? With what look like jumbo jet engines being rotated to direct thrust?
HerrDrPantagruel
This and the new Parrot fixed wing drone are interesting small winged drones that will have longer flight times. The Parrot is simpler with one fixed motor, but neither seem able to truly hover and film as well. And they both seem to land plopping down on the camera mount however! It seems a simpler approach than motor pivots would be the tail landing. Basically a two or three engine plane to take off/ land on it's tail with no motor tilt at all, the whole plane just takes off vertically then then transitions to level flight. This way you don't land on your camera and still don't need wheels. The tail tips could form a tripod and stick out a bit to prevent the control surface edges hitting the ground. Much simpler. With no passengers who cares what the landing orientation is. You are going to probably gimbal the camera anyway and could point the camera 90 deg down if you also want visuals under hover or TO/landing.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
This is a good "fly-by-phone" candidate, as it could support a solar cell covering and ride on thermals.
Druid
Best and already done is to tilt a flying wing. The fuselage is just to carry a payload.
Don Duncan
Hugh Schmittle of Freewing Aerorobotics invented this over a decade ago and sold it to the military. Check out the Manta.