Words By: Jacob Cereteli - UKRSpecsystems
I am looking at the drone market and wondering where we should move next.
When we were creating the PD-1 UAS, it was something that our country was lacking at the time. The concept was almost 20 years old, but something Ukraine was missing at that point. Later on, we got our concept proven when the PD-1 become a one of a kind UAV in service in the Ukrainian army.
Now we are moving forward.
We are starting to enter civil markets, offer services to agriculture companies and now we are currently working on an inspection project for one of the biggest gas and oil companies in Ukraine. We are getting great results and positive feedback from our clients, comparing to smaller drones we do more with better quality and simply faster.
The biggest issue, however, is takeoff and landing. Even while we are using pneumatic catapult launcher and parachute recovery it takes additional time for flight preparations and involves additional risks, which we are currently trying to eliminate. When we were looking for a solution we eventually reached the crossroad, either to redesign and create a completely new drone or upgrade our existing PD-1, so that takeoff and landing would be safer. We went with the second choice since the PD-1 platform has already proved its capabilities as a reliable solution and so we started to work on a VTOL upgrade.
Our philosophy from the beginning was to create a modular drone that would be ready for any mission. Now our further steps will only prove it. We are currently working on a VTOL module that could be easily attached to the drone when needed. For example, if you are operating offshore and need VTOL capability to start from a vessel. When you don’t need it, you can simply remove it and then you have a drone with a runway or catapult/parachute takeoff and landing.
What advantages will it give to the drone operator?
You can easily customise the drone according to your current tasks and have a fleet of the same unmanned aerial vehicles for land and offshore operations. You can quickly and easily replace payloads, remove the parachute module if needed, remove or put back chassis and add the VTOL module. Basically, you can work with the same modular platform for any missions that you have, with no need to own different drones for different applications. This means easier and standardized maintenance and training procedures.
How are we going to make our platform a truly universal solution? The standard PD-1 platform already has a lot of features that allow easy customization. For example, the airframe holds together with something we call “fast link” technology. You assemble the airframe and lock fast links. It's pretty simple, especially when you are operating in a cold environment and you don’t have to deal with small screws and a screwdriver. Trust me when your hands are freezing and you are wearing gloves it makes a huge difference.
Parachute module, chassis module and a payload compartment. Everything is very easy to access and replace. Let's say you are working on a mapping project and don’t want to carry expensive gimbal, but instead want high resolution and multispectral cameras on board? No problems, 10 minutes and you will have what you need.
Don’t need the chassis module because you are using a catapult or car top launch system? Guess what? A few minutes and you have the configuration that you need.
The VTOL module has the same philosophy. It installs between the centre section of the wing and wings themselves. After installing the upgrade, you are getting a 5-meter wingspan drone. And the great part is that every PD-1 is fully compatible with the VTOL module, so you can add it to your drone whenever you need to.
What you are adding are 4 high output electric brushless motors. We have calculated the battery capacity, so you have enough time to take off and land in case you decide to abort the mission. Once the main engine is turned on, the electric generator will power up everything on-board and will recharge the batteries for landing. The flight controller allows you to safely operate the drone in a VTOL configuration, even in a fully autonomous mode.
What are we expecting in terms of flight capabilities? With the VTOL upgrade, we are planning to get 10 hours endurance with a 10 kg payload and a full tank of fuel. So a fully loaded drone will be able to stay in the air for 10 hours with payloads of your choice. The service ceiling will be 5000 meters.
In my opinion, this upgrade will give more freedom to drone operators, allow them to conduct missions in different environments and be prepared for any tasks while operating the single reliable platform. It's time to move fixed-wing drones from something complicated to something more autonomous, easy to operate and customizable, so operators can cover more tasks, get more information, stay in the air longer during SAR missions and save more lives!