Companies are improving capabilities of drones to transport heavier loads

Bell APT 70
APT 70. Bell image.

Many companies are experimenting with drones that can transport cargo. One day drones, unmanned aerial systems (UAS), will assist wildland firefighters by resupplying them with drinking water, portable pumps, fire hose, chain saws, fuel, food, and firing equipment. Today we will look at the experimental aircraft being built and tested by two organizations.

Bell, a company well known for their helicopters, is part of Textron Inc. that also includes Cessna, Beechcraft, Hawker, and several other companies. In 2018 we wrote about their design for an Autonomous Pod Transport (APT) with a goal of hauling 1,000-pounds of cargo. But recently they flight tested a more modest version, the APT 70, that will be able to carry 70 pounds. The objective was to execute a Beyond Visual Line-of-Sight mission in an urban environment transitioning into and out of Class B airspace representing future commercial flights.

Bell APT 70
APT 70. Bell image.

The APT 70 takes off vertically, then rotates to fly on its wings.

Integrated onto the APT 70 is Xwing’s airborne, multi-sensing detect and avoid system. Xwing’s system is comprised of radars, ADS-B, visual system, and onboard processing to provide aircraft tracks and pilot alerts transmitted to the ground station.

Parallel Flight Technologies has been testing proof of concept and prototype drones since the fall of 2018. The lead electrical engineer that helped design the Tesla all-electric battery-powered semi-trailer truck is one of the three people that have created the company that is developing an unmanned aircraft system that could be used on fires, as well as other functions. Joshua Resnick, now the CEO, said “We are building a new drone technology and it can be used for a lot of different things, but wildfire would really be the use case that was the impetus for me to even start on this project.”

Parallel Flight Technologies Beta
Beta. Image by Parallel Flight Technologies.

Their photos and designs often show their drone carrying chain saws or fire hose.

“We have developed a parallel hybrid drone,” Mr. Resnick said, “where the propellers are powered by a combination of gas and electric. The electric motors provide the responsiveness so the aircraft can maneuver and the gas supplies the duration and the high power to weight ratio.”

The aircraft is powered by four hybrid power modules, each with a gas-electric combination. The 2-cycle gas engines work in combination with the electric motors, which provide very high peak thrust as well as redundancy. Larger aircraft in the pipeline could be powered by other fuels, such as diesel or jet fuel.

Parallel is now building a beta version of the aircraft, appropriately named, “Beta”.

The design projects the payload capability (excluding fuel) for the Beta of 100 pounds for 1 hour, 40 pounds for 4 hours, and 10 pounds for 7 hours.

The company expects the Beta will have applications across industries such as firefighting, industrial logistics, and healthcare.

Parallel is currently testing key components of the aircraft and is planning flight testing for the fourth quarter of this year.  “We have a strong customer pipeline for Beta units to be delivered in 2021,” a spokesperson wrote in a statement.

Parallel Flight Technologies Beta
Beta. Image by Parallel Flight Technologies.

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5 thoughts on “Companies are improving capabilities of drones to transport heavier loads”

  1. Bill,
    Unfortunately, current battery technology does not allow sufficient endurance for these drones to be a practical solution.
    To have sufficient endurance, a drone will have to be a relatively large, turboshaft powered rotorcraft combining an extremely low empty weight, and a commensurately high payload to lift ratio.
    This type of drone should have a coaxial rotor, and be designed from the outset to capitalize on the lack of human occupancy (unlike the K -Max).

    I have 3 patents for a compact drone that is uniquely designed to meet these specific requirements. Having a common architecture regardless of size, these drones come in a range of lift capabilities from 5 tons up to 20 tons. They will be flown by a pair of ground-based ‘pilots’, and will be radio controlled with guidance by a full suite of miniature cameras. To back this up I have 60 years engineering experience in aerospace

    For example, a fully-fueled 10 ton machine will feature a 47′ rotor with a 2000 gallon water capacity. It is envisioned that every local fire station in fire-prone regions would have this new type of fire engine parked by, ready for rapid response. I believe this type of approach could do much to catch incipient fires before they get out of hand.
    Unfortunately, although these drones would be relatively inexpensive, I am having a lot of trouble getting financing for a small, battery powered proof of concept machine from prospective helicopter manufacturers.
    Anything you could to get the word out would be most helpful. For more details, contact me at jv_howard@sbcglobal.net. Thanks.

  2. It would be great to see drones someday capable of day or night short haul and medical evacuation missions of a single person over short distances.

  3. GRIFF Aviation and their roughneck,florian and rancher models can carry 441 lbs. The new GRIFF 135 can carry 66 to 110 lbs. grffaviation.com

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