I know this is starting to look like we are turning into an electric aviation magazine, but…electric aircraft are on the cutting edge of new developments. Batteries are improving, and the aircraft flying today can be upgraded to the new batteries as soon as they come out. So, lets take a look at what’s new here…
What kind of Drone?
VTOL means Vertical Take Off and Landing.
I’ll get right into the meat of it. I stumbled across an article on how the police in Malaga were able to capture a drone that was smuggling illegal drugs from North Africa to Spain. It took some digging, but the model is the Autoflight Aviation V50 “White Shark”. It uses several electrically driven rotors to achieve vertical liftoff and landing, with a single pusher propeller for forward flight, which is powered by a 2-cylinder liquid-fuel engine. The engine also recharges the VTOL battery during flight.
The captured drone has a wingspan of 4.5 meters (14.7 feet) and a capacity to carry 150 kilos of cargo (330 lbs). The type of drugs are not mentioned, but a quick google shows that although meth and heroin can be found, the most popular drug in the EU right now by far is cocaine.
The Autoflight Aviation V400 “Albatross”
One of the key design features of the Autoflight line of aircraft is the use of carbon fiber bodies, which are strong and very light. This is typically a labor intensive feature to produce, but China has historically low labor costs, and has also been very innovative when it comes to finding ways to automate processes that are normally “hand-made”.
Whether it’s cars or aircraft, I am a fan of hybrids, and the AA V50/V400 family of drones caught my eye.
The biggest problem in the international drug-smuggling trade is that they have more cash than they can spend. The reason I mention that is because…they can afford any equipment that they decide will be useful, and after researching drones for smuggling, they decided that the hybrid AA V50 was a fantastic piece of equipment.
These drug smugglers are not trying to boost the “electric revolution”, or cling to the old ways of using petro-fuels. All they care about is performance per cost. They know that a certain percentage of shipments will be intercepted, and the use of a drone means that they don’t have to worry about a pilot testifying against them, or falling asleep at the steering wheel from too many hours of flying.
There have recently been quite a few advanced designs for aircraft that hope to succeed by having an electric air-taxi that takes off vertically and flies like a large quad-copter…using eight, twelve, or more rotors. However relying on rotors alone is very energy intensive. Of course helicopters “work”, but…when flying any serious length of distance, it is more efficient and cost-effective to use the “lift” of wings when flying forward.
I also stumbled across the V300 from Pipistrel. When several well-funded aircraft manufacturers use the same design for a new type of aircraft, something is going on.
Pipistrel only has graphics of their drone proposal above right now, but…they have an existing model of flying aircraft called the Alpha Electro, which achieved first flight in February of 2019. There have been over 50 made and sold around the world. The company is marketing them with optional dual-controls as an affordable trainer for pilots to achieve an “electric aircraft” rating.
Creating a model that only carries cargo (instead of human passengers) is the fastest and easiest way to verify a new type of aircraft system. Autoflight Aircraft and Pipistrel are both using electric multi-rotors to achieve vertical takeoff and landing, and then…they use a fuel-burning engine along with wings for forward flight.
Another similar configuration of drone is the Elroy Air Chaparral. In the pic above, the Chaparral drone is displayed by David Merrill, CEO of Elroy Air. They are partnering with Lockheed Martin to market the Chaparral to the US Air Force and Navy.
This San Francisco-based startup announced in Dec. 2019 that it’s secured $9.2 million in funding based on the performance of it’s prototypes, capable of carrying loads of 150 pounds up to 300 miles in one trip. It uses six downward facing rotors for vertical lift, and a single pusher propeller for efficient forward flight.
The battery and cargo pods are both “hot swappable” (click here)
“…A Cessna Caravan, the workhorse of small air freight carriers, consumes 50 gallons (189 L) of fuel an hour; the Elroy hybrid aircraft will burn 5, (18 Liters) says Merrill. A Cessna Caravan can carry a maximum of 4,000 pounds (1,840 kg), but Merrill says a significant portion of package carriers’ flights aren’t fully loaded and potential customers have indicated that 500 pounds (225 kg) is a sweet spot…”
“… As of 2019, there is currently a cargo pilot shortage due to airlines paying more than cargo aircraft, which means the use of UAVs are needed now, not next year…”
When it comes to efficient long-distance flying, I couldn’t help but to notice that the Elroy Air Chaparral looks a “little bit” like the record-breaking Rutan Voyager.
Autoflight Aviation V600
This company is currently working on an even larger “V1200” 4-seat model, but at the 2019 Friedrichshafen air show in Germany, they debuted the 2-passenger V600, with four 8-foot rotors, and a single rear pusher propeller.
The designation V600 refers to the 600-kg (13,230-pound) upper weight limit for the European Union Aviation Safety Agency’s ultralight type certification class.
The V1000 is very similar to the V50 (in the header pic) and V400, but scaled up to fly at a total weight of 1000kg, which includes 300kg of cargo (660-pounds), in the hot-swappable cargo pod.
Lift is provided by eight electric rotors, and the single rear propeller can be pure electric, or a hybrid drivetrain for extended range and rapid refueling.
Why are we writing about this?
Battery improvements will benefit electric cars, but…to be honest, Tesla has already shown that they have more range and performance than needed for the average consumer . The next big improvement is lowering the purchase price and increasing the number of model choices. That’s only a matter of time…
Zero motorcycles has shown that electric motorcycles can have fantastic performance. I have personally ridden 100 miles non-stop on a motorcycle, but after refilling the gasoline tank, I looked for a place to eat and rest. That being said, a doubling of the range of Zero motorcycles will be a game-changer for them, when solid state batteries are in full production soon. I rode another 100 miles to get home that day, and I didn’t need to recharge a battery to do that.
Electric bicycles are just about as good as they can get. I have a BBSHD mid-drive and battery from Luna Cycle, mounted on an Electra cruiser frame, and i wouldn’t change a thing.
But aircraft?…they are a wide open world of opportunity for electric innovation. Not only are there existing niches where an electric or hybrid drivetrain can really shine, aircraft need long range, and they have serious money to spend on anything that actually works.
If you want to know what’s going to be hot in electric drivetrains in the future…keep your eye on electric aircraft…
Written by Ron/spinningmagnets, August 2021