Aerovel's unmanned Flexrotor sets VTOL endurance record



Aerovel has announced that its unmanned Flexrotor, named Actaea, set a VTOL endurance record, as it flew just over 32 hours.

During its flight, Actaea, which is a unique miniature tailsitter, transitioned from hover to wing-borne flight, and conducted its journey through a “showery day, a blustery night, and then another day in the breezy and unsettled air behind a cold front.”

The UAS transitioned back to hover as dusk fell, and “dropped gently down onto a 12-foot square helideck underway at 8 kt.”

The UAS flew for a total of 32 hours and eight minutes, and had more than three hours’ worth of gasoline left in its tank upon landing. When it took off, the UAS had 7.5 kg of fuel onboard.

“The first day was a little turbulent, and after going through the cold front we had 20-30 kt wind and lots of convection,” says Tad McGeer, Aerovel’s president.

“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.”

Aerovel and McGeer have a plethora of experience when it comes to long endurance flights. Back in 1998, his Aerosonde weather-reconnaissance aircraft made the first unmanned transatlantic flight.

​A few years later in 2004, many members of the Aerovel team were present with McGeer when the Scaneagle completed the longest ship-based flight.

According to McGeer though, this latest flight was the longest for any member of the Aerovel team.

“It was 5 hours more than the transatlantic Aerosonde flight, and at a higher speed,” McGeer says.

“In fact, as far as we know, no VTOL aircraft has even come close in either time or distance.”

The UAS carried a payload of 1.5 kg. McGeer says that most Flexrotors fly with the nose-mounted ‘05’ turret, which comes from their colleagues at Hood Technology.

McGeer adds that during the first day of the 32 hour flight, Aerovel had a second ‘05’ Flexrotor flying formation to take close-ups of Actaea in cruise.

The removable backpack allows for additional load to be carried. Actaea flew a 3 kg backpack fuel tank. Onboard power and Ethernet for supplementary payloads were provided by other backpacks. According to Aerovel, the “onboard Ethernet links into the ground network, and transmits at video rate over distances exceeding 100 km.”

Aerovel says that the UAS’ small footprint and long range make it ideal for shipboard use.

Some of its applications thus far include guiding a commercial seiner to yellowfin in the midst of the equatorial pacific, as well as a giant anchor-handler to Arctic worksites through the icy labyrinth of the Beaufort.

Near the company’s home on the Columbia river, the UAS has also been used to operate from an unmanned 4-metre skiff.