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vertigo

There’s a new kid in town, with a pretty unusual VTOL design. The aircraft is the UK-made Falcon Vertigo Hybrid, and its debut was marked, at least in part, by the release of a video yesterday on YouTube. (Don’t worry, we’ll get to it.)

VTOLs In Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Space

Of course, VTOLs are somewhat rare birds in the unmanned aerial vehicle space. The vast majority of consumer/prosumer drones are of the quadcopter-style variety (with quads, in particular, enjoying the bulk of consumer sales).

The advantage of this popular design is that it requires virtually no space to takeoff or land since it can ascend or descend vertically. The disadvantage is that because, with rare exceptions, they have no lifting surface other than the airfoils of the propellers themselves, they are limited in the distance they can cover on a single charge.

Fixed-wing aircraft, by contrast, are far more efficient because of that nice lifting airfoil. The downside, however, is they generally require more space to takeoff and land, and that they don’t have the ability to hover or loiter at a given location.

Vertical Takeoff And Landing (VTOL) Aircraft

And that’s where Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) aircraft come in. They offer, arguably, the best of both worlds. Like the Harrier Jump Jet or the V-22 Osprey, they can lift off vertically and then transition into forward flight and utilize a lifting surface. This hybrid design enables longer flights with the flexibility of helicopter-like takeoffs and landings.

There are a variety of ways that VTOL flight can be achieved, ranging from tilting rotors and ducted fans to completely fixed systems, where nothing changes except for where the thrust is applied.

Though there are VTOLs in the consumer drone world, they’re not mainstream. One of the earliest to the game was the XCRAFT, which took its name from its form.

The xCraft XPlusOne
The xCraft XPlusOne

The problem is, or at least was initially, that VTOL drones for the hobbyist weren’t that easy to control. The transition between vertical and horizontal flight was the cause of more than a few mishaps until hardware and software helped make the process less prone to human error. Early VTOLs were also relatively expensive, though the prices have now dropped substantially. You can now buy a basic XCRAFT starting at around $695 US.

You do, however, need space once these birds move into horizontal mode. For people used to flying garden-variety quads, the speeds with which these aircraft can cover ground comes as something of a shock. Make the transition and – Zing! – it’s suddenly two football fields away. And if you weren’t experienced with flying in reverse orientation, at least with the earliest versions, you could wind up in serious trouble trying to turn these vehicles around and bring them back home.

Those early days are now mostly behind, with more and more entrants to the VTOL arena. And that brings us to the new Falcon Vertigo Hybrid, which features some fairly unusual design characteristics. Made by the UK company FlyingWings, the Falcon appears to have been cleverly adapted from a pre-existing delta-wing design:

AirRails

It uses a Pixhawk flight controller for brains and is compatible with both the QGroundControl ground control station and also the AirRails system made by UAVenture. That company is carving out a fairly unique niche with an autopilot system that has been designed specifically for unmanned VTOL aircraft. The tablet-based UAVenture ground station makes it easy to program waypoints for precision agriculture or industrial inspection.
With a 1.3M wingspan, the Falcon has been designed to carry a GoPro or small FPV camera. Presumably, other sensors will be available down the road. The RTF version still requires a radio or ground control system plus battery (and charger) and sells for the equivalent of $1500 US.
And the video? Well, thanks for waiting. It includes shots from the AirRails autopilot system. When integrated with that package, it’s fully autonomous – which also means you’ll likely need special permission to fly it (depending on your jurisdiction, planned altitude, and whether the craft will be leaving the pilot in command’s line of sight).
 After watching this video, we happened across another one where someone had clearly been experimenting with a similar design. In that case, they’d taken a Skywalker X8 fixed-wing R/C aircraft, and put on pretty much the same kind of kit now being seen on the Falcon. Coincidentally, this earlier video was posted exactly one year ago to the day that the Falcon Vertigo was posted. Who knows – maybe there’s a connection of some sort.

 

While nifty, TDC doubts that VTOLs will ever really become the Next Big Thing for consumers, unless someone could build something a lot smaller and more suited to the average hobbyist.

Say, something like a Mavic Pro, only with wings.

Now, that would be cool.


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