The U.S. Air Force is planning to retire its fleet of MQ-1 Predator remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) in early 2018 in favor of the more capable MQ-9 Reaper. For the past 21 years, the Air Force has flown the MQ-1 in combat, and the MQ-9 for the last 10.

The MQ-9 offers increased speed, high-definition sensors, and the ability to carry more munitions, allowing a wider array of missions. The MQ-1, not originally designed to carry weapons, has a 200 lb payload, while the MQ-9 offers a nearly 4,000 lb payload including missiles and bombs.

Attack squadrons can call upon combat RPAs for close air support, a change from using RPAs solely for intelligence gathering and real-time reconnaissance.

With the MQ-1 retirement, the Air Force will no longer have to maintain a training pipeline or equipment on two separate aircraft, eliminating the cost of operating two different airframes.

Technology enables medical supply robotic aircraft delivery

Trust Automation Inc. has provided engineering support in developing the recovery system for Zipline Int’l.’s drones that fly lifesaving medical supplies to remote areas.

“Trust Automation contributed to the Zipline drone technology by creating a small-footprint, capture/recovery solution required to make this program operable in locations where runways are not practical,” says Ty Safreno, CEO and CTO of Trust Automation.

Zipline recently began routine and national scale deliveries of blood to health facilities in Rwanda with the goal to put each of the country’s 11 million citizens within a 15- to 35-minute delivery of any essential medical product.;

UPS tests residential delivery via UAV launched from van

Credit:Trust Automation Inc.

UPS has successfully tested an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that launches from the top of a delivery van, autonomously delivers a package to a home, and then returns to the vehicle while the driver continues along the route making other deliveries.

UPS conducted the test in Lithia, Florida, with Workhorse Group, an Ohio-based battery-electric truck and drone developer. Workhorse built the UAV and the electric UPS truck used in the Feb. 20, 2017 test.

“This is a big step toward bolstering efficiency in our network and reducing our emissions at the same time,” says Mark Wallace, UPS senior vice president of global engineering and sustainability.

The test used the Workhorse HorseFly UAV delivery system, a battery-powered octocopter integrated with Workhorse’s line of electric/hybrid delivery trucks. The UAV docks on the roof of the delivery truck, and a cage suspended beneath the drone extends through a hatch into the truck. The driver loads a package into the cage and presses a touch screen, sending the drone on a preset autonomous route to an address. The HorseFly, which recharges while it’s docked, has a 30-minute flight time and can carry a package weighing up to 10 lb.;

Drone America UAV demonstrates long-distance package delivery

The Nevada Team after the historic package delivery.
Credit: Betty Easley, Hawthorne Industrial Airport

Nevada-headquartered Drone America’s flight team claims a long-distance record for aerial package delivery flying a fixed-wing, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in a beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) mission.

Flying from the area of Walker Lake to deliver a package to the Industrial Airport in Hawthorne, Nevada, the Drone America Savant UAV reached an altitude of 1,500ft above ground level (AGL), covering more than 39 miles in one hour. The cargo consisted of emergency supplies in a simulated lost hiker scenario.

The mission, conducted on Feb. 15, 2017, was led by the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems.;

Unmanned aerial vehicle market worth $28.27B by 2022

Research firm MarketsandMarkets projects the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) market to reach $28.27 billion by 2022, up from an estimated $13.22 billion in 2016, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.51% during the forecast period. The civil and commercial application segment is projected to grow at the highest rate, as UAVs offer attractive platforms for a broad range of potential applications such as aerial remote sensing, greenhouse emission monitoring, and precision agriculture.

Key factors fueling the growth of the market are increasing demand for UAVs for commercial applications, advancements in technologies of drone payloads, and increasing defense budgets of emerging economies.

The small UAV segment is anticipated to grow at the highest CAGR owing to a wide range of opportunities in commercial applications and their potential use in battlefields.

US Air Force uses sUAS for C-17 post-flight inspection

Quadcopter inspecting a C-17. (U.S. Air Force photo/Kenji Thuloweit)

The U.S. Air Force 412th Test Wing’s Emerging Technologies Combined Test Force (CTF) used a quadcopter to conduct a maintenance inspection of the exterior of a C-17 Globemaster III at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on March 6, 2017.

The team conducted three sorties, recording video from the quadcopter’s camera that the team will analyze to determine if it is clear enough to reveal smaller details of the plane’s exterior such as structural abnormalities, rivets, and cracks.

Inspections that would normally take 45 minutes to 1 hour could be done just in a few minutes with a small unmanned aerial system (sUAS). Maintainers also would not need a lift to inspect a C-17’s tail.

CTF Director Maj. Dan Riley said the test also establishes a baseline for how sUAS operations can be conducted safely on the flight line.

Arcturus UAV, HEC-TINA form joint partnership

The Hydrogen Engine Center (HEC-TINA) and Arcturus UAV are partnering to develop a hydrogen-fueled internal combustion engine capable of supporting the Arcturus T-20 family of unmanned aircraft. This initiative will enable development of remotely located filling stations to both manufacture and store fuel necessary to support UAV operations. Research and development objectives include providing a long-endurance, reliable, low heat signature, lightweight, zero- or low-emission engine.

The T-20 medium-range tactical unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) system manufactured for the United States armed forces comprises two aerial vehicles, a ground control station (GCS), a portable launcher, and a support trailer for payload and personnel. Flying to 15,000ft maximum altitude, the T-20 provides its operators with real-time intelligence data across a large area.

Hydrogen Engine Center Inc., and its subsidiary, HEC-TINA, develop systems and processes used in the design, manufacture, and distribution of clean energy and carbon-free renewable hydrogen fuel systems. Engines are sold under the brand name Oxx Power.;