Hovering Drone Transforms into Winged Aircraft in First Test
Flying robots don't need a Transformer lineage to pull off amazing aerial makeover. A new drone capable of hovering has completed its first airborne test of morphing from a helicopter into a winged airplane.
The Flexrotor drone takes off with its propeller nose pointed directly up at the sky. But once it climbs high enough, it pitches over into a steep dive so that it can pull out and fly horizontally like any aircraft. Its first showing of the unique capability came during a videotaped flight test on August 11, according to Aviation Week.
Once in airplane mode, Flexrotor can cruise at speeds of 57 mph and cover a distance of 1,864 miles (3,000 km) over a day and a half. Such long-range endurance makes it perfect for airborne surveillance or other similar activities that might require an unblinking eye in the sky for hours on end.
Getting back onto the ground requires a similar transformative feat. The Flexrotor went from horizontal flight to climbing vertically at more than 80 mph so that it could achieve hover flight once more. That allowed it to land gently in its docking cradle for refueling and possible turnaround.
The first test flight had a human pilot guide the drone with a joystick. But manufacturer Aerovel envisions the system becoming fully autonomous from launch to landing without any human hands needed.
Aerovel also claims the drone could take off or land from small boats under tough conditions, such as gusty winds and rough seas. That might add another welcome weapon to the arsenal of the U.S. Navy or Coast Guard.
This isn't the first drone to show some type of hovering capability DARPA previously unveiled a tiny hummingbird drone for indoor surveillance or navigating tight city environments. But Flexrotor combines that ability to take off and land almost anywhere with the long-range endurance to do more heavy-duty surveillance jobs. You know, like helping track down a certain terrorist leader.