Tech Briefs

Researchers are demonstrating a unique approach to an autonomous unmanned air vehicle.

AFRL scientists are working on SkyTote, a novel unmanned air vehicle (UAV) that will take off and land vertically like a helicopter (see figure) but also transition into horizontal flight like a conventional aircraft. SkyTote's primary mission is to deliver a payload to a specific point within a tactically relevant range and time. AeroVironment, Inc., of Monrovia, California, developed the vehicle under a Small Business Innovation Research effort for AFRL.

According to AFRL's Mr. Tom Cord, SkyTote program manager, the aircraft is a concept demonstrator and not a working system. "We are not trying to reach a certain performance and capability; we are trying to show that a hovering UAV with a fast, forward speed is a likelihood. It's something we can do in a simple way," he explains.

ImageResearchers are hopeful that after careful analysis and testing, SkyTote will become a safe, inexpensive, and reliable choice for activities such as assessing bomb damage, conducting resupply missions, or helping with emergency troop evacuations. SkyTote combines the vertical takeoff, landing, and hover characteristics of helicopters with the high-speed cruise capability of fixed-wing aircraft. Counter-rotating rotors with individual cyclic control provide its propulsion. Issues related to propulsion and the vehicle's transition from rotor- to propeller-based flight pose some of the major technical challenges of this effort. Because of its cyclic control, SkyTote looks like a helicopter when it is flying in helicopter mode. When the vehicle is flying like an airplane, however, the propellerrotor system functions more like a propeller.