Researchers at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia have developed two long endurance Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) UAVs. These new concepts address two major roadblocks for commercial UAV applications, expensive ground support for launch and recovery and limitations on flight time and range.
“The basic problem that’s holding back companies from expanding their businesses is the technology. The FAA is working on the regulations side and we’ve seen regulations open up for small UAVs just recently, but the technology part of it is holding back the market because we have battery powered UAVs that can only fly for about 15 minutes” said David North, one of the designers of the new aircraft.
The first technology, appropriately named Trifecta for its three-rotor layout, is an inexpensive UAV capable of flying for 24 hours, landing in a 50x50 zone, and is compact enough to easily be transported in the back of a cargo van.
The design behind Trifecta is derived from a conventional single-prop aircraft with the addition of vertically oriented, stowable tail rotors and an articulating forward rotor, capable of pivoting from horizontal to vertical orientation.
The second technology, named Greased Lightning, takes a different approach to achieving VTOL. The core technology that enables the Greased Lightning UAV is the aerodynamic efficiency it achieves in its cruise configuration. Electric motors at each propeller negate the need for drive shafts and gearing which enables this distributed electric propulsion aircraft configuration. The design is intended to utilize a hybrid electric drive system that includes small diesel engines which drive alternators to power the electric motors and to charge an on-board battery system. Additional novel design elements are also incorporated,including folding propellers to minimize drag when not in operation.
Trifecta and Greased Lightning both achieve the combined speed and fuel efficiency of fixed wing aircraft with the hoverability and flexibility of rotary aircraft.
These technologies are perfect for applications such as surveillance, large area field surveys, industrial inspections, and many others.
"We’re even looking at applications now, for larger versions of the vehicles, for urban air taxis. There’s quite a few companies, just in the past year or so, that are starting to look at electric urban air taxis."
NASA Langley Research Center is looking for partners to commercialize this technology.
For more information about these technologies, please watch our webinar presentation on the technologies here.