Engineers from Delft University of Technology have made a prototype vertical take-off and landing drone, using techniques first developed more than 100 years ago by pioneering aviators the Wright Brothers. Jim Drury reports.
The Wright brothers made history in 1903 with the world's first successful airplane flight. Their biplane design of two stacked wings was fashionable through aviation's early years. Engineers at Delft University of Technology's MAVlab want to bring it back in fashion. They've created this Vertical TakeOff and Landing stacked drone called the delftAcopter. SOUNDBITE (English) TU DELFT'S MAVLAB UAV PROJECT MANAGER, BART REMES, SAYING: "The reason why we have a biplane wing is because during hover we want to have as less as possible surface area because of gusts on the wing, but in forward flight you want to have a big wing surface, so we can fly very efficiently in forward flight - and that's the reason why we have a biplane configuration. And we have a big amount of aerial surface in forward flight and a small amount of surface in hover-flight." For take-off, the drone sits upright with its propeller spinning horizontally, similar to a helicopter. At a safe height it can then move 90 degrees, with the propeller facing forward, reaching 100 kilometres per hour. It can fly for an hour on a single charge. SOUNDBITE (English) TU DELFT'S MAVLAB UAV PROJECT MANAGER, BART REMES, SAYING: "You can take this drone on the front of a ship where it takes off vertically and start looking for people in need in the sea, and then you can drop life vests from the air to rescue people. Or, for instance, in African regions where it's very hard to come nearby a hospital you can use these kind of drones to transport medical supplies to local areas or take, for instance, blood samples or other samples to the hospital." The delftAcopter came second in Australia's recent UAV Medical Express Challenge. Competing autonomous drones hunted for a stranded person 30 kilometres away and retrieved their blood sample. The craft is one of a number of current prototypes that combine the range and payload capacity of fixed-wing drones with multicopters' agility. This combination enables take-off and landing in tight spaces and could one day be useful in search and rescue missions.