Call it the best of both worlds: the Hybrid Quadcopter UAV has the extended air endurance of a Predator but can take off like a helicopter from the back of a frigate. No wonder the US Navy has expressed interest in this unmanned helicopter-aircraft hybrid that Latitude Engineering, a small drone company from Tucson, Arizona, recently showcased at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) conference in Washington, DC.
Weighing in at 11,3 kg, the Hybrid Quadcopter UAV looks like a typical twin-boom drone but with four helicopter blades. It’s a configuration sparked by a wild brainstorming session involving company founder Jason Douglas, Latitude design engineer Bayani Birkinbine says.
“In mid-2011, Jason and our aerospace engineer, Justin Armer, tossed around the idea ‘What if we were to combine a quadcopter with a regular fixed-wing aircraft?’, and then they literally put together a prototype within a day and tested it manually with two RC boxes.”
Last year, the Latitude team conducted the first real flight of the Hybrid Quadcopter UAV (well, one of its inexpensive stunt doubles), which until then had been managing only low-altitude hops. Even then, the team had to land the UAV with steering assistance from a Cloud Cap Technology autopilot.
The stunt-double prototypes have since flown autonomous end-to-end flights, but being all-electric, they don’t have much endurance. Birkinbine expects the operational, petrol-powered Hybrid Quadcopter UAV to fly for 12 to 15 hours while carrying a 1 kg TASE200 electro-optical infrared camera.
The R250 000 UAV should be ready in six to 12 months. Latitude is already building a larger, longer, 27 kg endurance version of the Hybrid Quadcopter UAV that the US Navy will be testing later this year, and which will be fully autonomous. “The idea is long-endurance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. No runway, no arresting net. A very small operational footprint,” Birkinbine says. – ERIK SCHECHTER