In previous posts, I spent a lot of time talking about the difficulties and limitations of making an aircraft that can hover. However, there are situations where an aircraft capable of hovering is ideal. In this post, I will look at the wide range of applications for drones and why there is such a variety of airframes currently in use and under development. I will also look at how Passerine Aircraft is providing an aircraft which expands the use of drones even further.
A time to hover
In certain situations, the need for a drone to hover is critical. One industry where this is the case is film. If flight time is of little concern, and the size of the payload is small, the best drone for the application is a multi-rotor (below). These drones are simple and capable of performing a broad range of manoeuvres, making them perfect for use in photography. Unfortunately, people try to use these aircraft in roles for which they are not suited.
When aircraft and payloads get larger, but hover is still required, helicopter style drones (below) start becoming the prime choice of airframe. Helicopters are more efficient than multi-copters, but the added complexity of a rotor head makes them only viable at larger scales. Precision agriculture is one application where a helicopter drone can be used. Up until now, it has also been the only choice for large LIDAR surveying equipment. While helicopter drones are capable of longer range and flight time than multi-rotors, they are still not truly efficient aircraft.
A time for size
When extremely long ranges or high altitudes are required, drones need to get larger. An extreme case of this is the Global Hawk (below). This aircraft has a wingspan the length of a small airliner and can stay in the air for more than a day a time. This type of aircraft is ideal for military surveillance or research at high altitudes. Unfortunately, the size and complexity of these types of aircraft make them unsuitable for most commercial operations.
A time to jump
There is a need for a different kind of drone. Something with the efficiency and flight performance of a large fixed wing drone, and the operational ease of use of a helicopter or multi-rotor. The Passerine Aircraft design fills this need. Being able to fly longer distances with larger payloads; the use of drones in surveying, game counting or aid delivery can be expanded. In turn, growing the commercial drone sector, and opening up new opportunities to use drones in new and interesting ways.
Passerine Aircraft has been working hard on developing this new kind of drone and we are excited about going into a time of testing our new airframe. I look forward to sharing our achievements in new ways of flight in the coming weeks.