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.
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.”
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.