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Aerovel’s Flexrotor Sets VTOL UAS 32 Hour Endurance Mark

NOAA UAS Program SBIR Partner exceeds several shipboard UAS requirements.

Long range and endurance are capabilities not often associated with VTOL aircraft. But Aerovel’s unmanned Flexrotor, a unique miniature tailsitter, is cut from a different cloth. Last week a Flexrotor named for the sea nymph Actaea lifted off into a grey and rainy morning with 7.5 kg of fuel onboard. It transitioned from hover to wing-borne flight, and soldiered on through a showery day, a blustery night, and then another day in the breezy and unsettled air behind a cold front.

As dusk fell it transitioned back to hover, and dropped gently down onto a 12-foot square helideck underway at 8 kt. Time from launch had been 32 hours and 8 minutes. More than 3 hours’ worth of gasoline remained in the tank.

Tad McGeer, Aerovel’s president, recounted that

“the first day was a little turbulent, and after going through the cold front we had 20-30 kt wind and lots of convection. A sailplane pilot would have used it to good effect, but Actaea was holding constant altitude and so gave up a few percent of range fighting the ups and downs. Performance was otherwise right on expectation.”

Long endurance is Aerovel’s heritage. Dr McGeer’s own experience dates back to his Aerosondeweather-reconnaissance aircraft, which made the first unmanned transatlantic flight in 1998.Many of Aerovel’s team were with him for Scaneagle, which made the longest ship-based flight in 2004. But Actaea’s flight “has been the longest for any of us. It was 5 hours more than the transatlantic Aerosonde flight, and at a higher speed. In fact, as far as we know, no VTOL aircraft has even come close in either time or distance.” (McGeer recalls that a Royal Air Force Harrier “jump-jet” flew from central London to New York in 1969, but “it went straight to a tanker 10 minutes after launch”.)

The Flexrotor has been part of our NOAA UAS shipboard analysis and has exceed several or our requirements including 24 hour endurance and landing shipboard in a 20’x20′ area.  It has also operated in the Arctic from an icebreaker, and is part of the NOAA UAS Program’s partnership with NASA for Arctic Wind Tunnel Testing.

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