Drones

Walkera's methanol-fuelled range extender keeps a QR X900 hexacopter in the air for more than an hour

Walkera has beefed up its professional QR X900 hexacopter with a methanol-fueled range extending generator to promise flight times over an hour
Walkera has beefed up its professional QR X900 hexacopter with a methanol-fueled range extending generator to promise flight times over an hour
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Walkera has beefed up its professional QR X900 hexacopter with a methanol-fueled range extending generator to promise flight times over an hour
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Walkera has beefed up its professional QR X900 hexacopter with a methanol-fueled range extending generator to promise flight times over an hour
Walkera's QR X900 hexacopter prototype at CES
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Walkera's QR X900 hexacopter prototype at CES
Walkera's QR X900 hexacopter prototype at CES
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Walkera's QR X900 hexacopter prototype at CES
Walkera's QR X900 hexacopter prototype at CES
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Walkera's QR X900 hexacopter prototype at CES
Walkera's QR X900 hexacopter prototype at CES
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Walkera's QR X900 hexacopter prototype at CES
Walkera's QR X900 hexacopter prototype at CES
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Walkera's QR X900 hexacopter prototype at CES

Hexacopter flight times over an hour should soon become possible. Chinese drone manufacturer Walkera has decided to go beyond the battery, teaming up with micro-generator producers at GenSmart to build a new hybrid powertrain for its QR X900 professional heavy lifter. A tiny, efficient methanol motor charges the battery during flight, allowing long flight times and instant refueling and it can be switched off so the drone can operate in "stealth mode" when necessary.

Short flight times are the bane of battery-powered drones – at least until battery technology takes another few leaps forward. Combustion fuels offer much higher energy than batteries for a given weight, but combustion motors aren't responsive enough to stabilize a multicopter in the air.

Thus, hybrid systems are beginning to pop up with the aim of combining the endurance of combustion fuel with the quick response of electric motors.

The Yeair! hybrid quadcopter was the first we've seen with this kind of capability. It uses miniature two-stroke 10 cc gasoline engines driving each prop shaft with additional electric motors applying instant torque to the same shafts, and promises flight durations up to an hour.

Chinese company Walkera has decided upon a different approach with the hybrid powertrain it's introduced on the QR X900 at CES 2016. This beefy hexacopter is equipped with battery power in conjunction with a single range extender – an ultra-lightweight GenSmart methanol motor that charges the battery as you fly.

Weighing just 1200 grams (2.6 lb), the generator puts out 1500 watts at peak power, and a full tank of fuel is said to give the QR X900 over an hour of flight time. If the engine is too noisy or vibey for your application, you can switch it off to operate in "stealth mode" and run on battery power alone for up to around 16 minutes. Plus, instead of several hours on a charger, you can simply fill up the fuel tank and get back in the air.

Beyond the power system, the QR X900 is a collapsible, folding heavy lift professional grade hexacopter with retractable carbon fiber landing legs. GPS and barometric stabilization are included, as well as a gimbal large enough to hold a Canon 5D MkIII camera. It's pitched at agricultural, fire, surveying, research and security applications.

6 comments
Martin Hone
So why methanol ? I've run many a race bike on it for more than 40 years, but it is toxic and not as easy to obtain as say the alternative, ethanol. Neither can provide the economy of unleaded gasoline. And what about diesel ?? Plenty of model aero engines are diesel powered...Why, why, why ???
Nostromo47
As with cars like the Prius, hybrid power seems to be a practical way to go to extend the range of electric powered vehicles. Now the technology is starting to be applied to small electric multicopters on the commercial market. DARPA has probably already done lots of work on such vehicles. Too bad the article didn't present more detail on the "methanol motor" set up or the pricing of the hexacopter with the hybrid power add-on.
RichardGreswell
People at Walkera.Don´t brake your head too much . Stick a two stroke engine to drive all four props with a dented belt in a well balanced but not perfect arrangement that will make the bird go up.....and on top bolt any of your gps models. This will compensate for smooth flying...and yo can make the quad fly for hours...please tell me that i am wrong...
IraHemphill
Martin, making a lot of assumptions without actual specs on the engine: probably because the vast majority of small internal combustion engines used in the RC hobby are fueled by methanol. It's easily available and significantly higher power to weight ratio than gasoline or diesel. And for your question about diesels, RC diesels are much rarer and even the guys that run diesels have a hell of a time finding fuel.
Pacific Oyster
Richard Greswell, yes you are wrong. No hexacopter can fly like that. Each motor needs to make it's own power adjustments continually to keep the craft steady and make it fly in a direction. If there is a gust of wind, motors on one side need to compensate very fast to keep craft level.
Jmiranda
The Hybrid Generator for the Walkera Drone is a partnership with GenSmart. More info on the generator can be found at http://www.generatorsmart.com/