Parallel Flight Technology nearing completion of their Beta model

Designed to carry 100 pounds for 2 hours

Parallel Flight Technology's Beta Drone
Parallel Flight Technology CEO Joshua Resnick with their Beta drone. PFT image, December, 2020.

Joshua Resnick, CEO of Parallel Flight Technology (PFT), hosted a webinar earlier on December 10 with Douglas Thron, an aerial cinematographer and wildlife rescuer who uses drones to save animals after natural disasters.

The discussion ranged far beyond saving animals and drifted to the technical specifications of the drones that PFT is designing and building. Their latest model is what they call the Beta, and is expected to be able to carry 100 pounds for two hours. The company has been testing prototypes for months, but the Beta may start flight tests in the coming months. (Refer to the video below, at 17:40)

PFT’s drones have four gas powered engines which generate electricity for electric motors that drive the four props. The engines are redundant — if one fails, electricity from the other three can still power all four electric motors.

PFT is talking with wildland fire agencies, including the California Department of Forestry and Fire Suppression, about how their drones could be useful to firefighters.

The next level up drone on their drawing board will have a target payload of 350 to 400 pounds with potential applications being the emergency extraction of a firefighter or dropping up to 50 gallons of water on a wildfire.

At 32:00 in the video below they answer questions that were submitted live during the webinar. Most of them were very good and interesting, except, “Is your drone solar powered?”

The video is cued to start at 17:33.

There are many ways a drone that can haul 100 pounds could be useful for wildland firefighters.

Picture this. It is midnight. A couple of Hotshot crews on extended attack in a remote area would like to conduct a firing operation on a slope leading down to a creek. A hose lay would increase their chances of success, and there’s water in the creek. Helicopters can’t haul cargo at night, so they request a call when needed drone sitting at the helibase to bring in a small pump and two Gasner hose packs with nozzles, gated wyes, and a total of 400 feet of hose. That is enough to get the crews started installing the pump and the hose lay. The drone makes additional sorties as needed, bringing three more Gasner packs and pump fuel on the second load. It might even bring in food and drinking water if the crews have not eaten in the last 12 hours. Or fuel for chain saws and drip torches.

After the hose lay is in and the firing begins, the drone returns outfitted with an infrared camera, then hovers for two hours watching for spot fires and providing live video to the Hotshots, the Division Supervisor, and Operations Section Chief.

If the next level beyond Beta is available, a drone could be on scene with 50 gallons of water to drop on spot fires during the firing operation while also providing live video. If it could refill at the creek, it could deliver hundreds of gallons throughout the night.

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.

Parallel Flight Technology’s next drone model will be able to carry 100 pounds for hours

Parallel Flight Technologies drone fires wildfires transport supplies
Joshua Resnick, the CEO of Parallel Flight Technologies, describes in a video how their drones can carry chainsaws and other equipment for wildland firefighters. Image from Santa Cruz Tech Beat video.

The first experimental drone that Parallel Flight Technology (PFT) developed can transport 75 of pounds for one hour, 50 pounds for 2.7 hours, or 10 pounds for 6.4 hours. They are currently designing what they call a beta level aircraft that can haul 100 pounds for hours.

“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,” Joshua Resnick, the CEO of PFT told us in November. “We had a fire not far from our home in Santa Cruz, California in 2017 either right before or right after the Santa Rosa Fire, and it was after that that I started looking into the different ways that unmanned systems could be used in a wildfire effort. That’s when I started understanding that using unmanned systems to resupply firefighters could be very useful especially when manned aircraft could not fly due to smoke inversions or nighttime.”

Mr. Resnick, formerly the lead electrical engineer that helped design the Tesla all-electric battery-powered semi-trailer truck, is one of the three people that created PFT.

Instead of relying on batteries to drive the new drone’s propellers, 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 PFT’s pipeline could be powered by other fuels, such as diesel or jet fuel.

In the video below Mr. Resnick begins talking about how it could be used on fires at 4:35.

Parallel Flight Technologies drone
Parallel Flight Technologies photo.

Former Tesla engineer developing drone with larger payload capacity that could be used on fires

Joshua Resnick Tesla Parallel Flight Technologies
Joshua Resnick was the lead electrical engineer who helped design the Tesla all-electric battery-powered semi-trailer truck. Parallel Flight Technologies photo.

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 a company that is developing an unmanned aircraft system, or drone, that could be used on fires, as well as other functions. Joshua Resnick, the CEO of a new company, Parallel Flight Technologies, said he worked on the Tesla semi project from the time it was first drawn up on a napkin through its introduction to the public in 2017.

Parallel Flight Technologies is building a drone with a much longer endurance and a larger payload capacity than those currently being used on wildfires. Most drones can only stay aloft for 20 to 30 minutes and can carry a few pounds of cargo — less if they are transporting more. Parallel Flight Technologies expects their aircraft to be able to transport 75 of pounds for one hour, or 50 pounds and stay airborne for 2.5 hours.

Parallel Flight Technologies drone
Parallel Flight Technologies photo.

On any aircraft the power to weight ratio is critical. Eliminate weight or add power and it can travel longer and farther. The primary limiting factor in electric-powered aircraft is the weight of the batteries. Until there is a huge leap in battery technology we’ll be unlikely to see them powering aircraft with more than 50 pounds of cargo while staying aloft for more than 15 minutes.

So we need new, or at least, different technology if we hope to see a drone carrying a portable pump, fire hose, and fuel to a remote site on a wildland fire.

“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,” Mr. Resnick said. “We had a fire not far from our home in Santa Cruz, California in 2017 either right before or right after the Santa Rosa Fire, and it was after that that I started looking into the different ways that unmanned systems could be used in a wildfire effort. That’s when I started understanding that using unmanned systems to resupply firefighters could be very useful especially when manned aircraft could not fly due to smoke inversions or nighttime.”

Parallel Flight Technologies drone
Parallel Flight Technologies photo.

Hybrid systems, using a gas engine to drive a generator which powered electric motors to spin the propellers, have been tried before, but it was not much more than strapping a generator to a drone which added too much mass and weight to be practical. Also, the many power conversion steps led to a loss of efficiency.

“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.

In fall of 2018 the company built a proof of concept aircraft, and in August, 2019 successfully demonstrated heavy lift capability and duration with a new prototype aircraft. In 2020 they expect to be ready for joint exercise missions with several agencies interested in the aircraft.

“I want to find ways to integrate this new technology with the existing solution,” Mr. Resnick said. “I don’t see it as a replacement for helicopters, we’re talking about a much smaller payload. I’m seeing, for example, smoke inversions where helicopters are grounded at nighttime or early dawn before manned aircraft are flying, to be able to operate our drones to do some of this work, while finding ways to deconflict the airspace between drones and manned aircraft.”

I noticed that in photos of the prototype the props appear to be made of wood. When I asked Mr. Resnick if that really was the case, he yes, the props on the prototype are wood due to the cost. If a prop was damaged during testing, they would be out about $100. If made of carbon fiber, such as might be used on the production version, the cost would be about ten times higher.

The U.S. Department of the Interior has leaped into the use of drones in the last few years and currently has over 800 unmanned aircraft. In 2018 they flew over 10,000 drone missions. Parallel Flight Technologies is consulting with personnel in the DOI who have experience in establishing and operating a drone program.

The DOI was recently in the news when their entire drone fleet was grounded except for those needed for firefighting and other emergency services. It turns out that all of the DOI drones are either entirely made by a Chinese company, DJI, or have chips or other parts that are manufactured in China. The Wall Street Journal reported that “the Department of Homeland Security was concerned about drones’ capacity to observe and transmit prohibited infrastructure surveillance and conduct cyberattacks.” Mr. Resnick said the Parallel Flight Technologies drones will be American made and will conform to security specifications required by the DOI and Department of Homeland Security.

Parallel Flight Technologies drone
Parallel Flight Technologies photo.

Mr. Resnick said they are working closely with Drone Amplified who they hope can build a larger drone-mounted plastic sphere dispenser (PSD) system for Parallel Flight Technologies’ upsized drones so that they can be used to ignite burnouts or prescribed fires. Drone Amplified recently introduced a PSD, Ignis 2.0, that can hold 400 to 450 spheres that ignite 30 to 45 seconds after being released from the drone. Their previous system, Ignis 1.0, carried 150 spheres.

Parallel Flight Technologies is raising funds through an equity crowd funding effort which is open to the public for anyone to invest in the company.

Parallel plans on selling a small number of initial aircraft in late 2020 to its first customers before full production begins in 2021.