Discussion: VTOL (Vertical Take-off and Landing) Fixed Wing
VTOL: The best of both worlds.
The VTOL market is projected to expand over the next few years according to a Statista report.
Technological innovation is about breaking down existing barriers, being able to achieve what was not possible before. Typically, the trade-off for consumers of drones always has been
Hover time or Gliding
(*Point of Interest)
Fixed wing drones have long been the preferred choice for long range mapping and surveillance purposes.
One of the most important applications of long-range drones is mapping a terrain. This can be a city, a rural area, large plants, extensive infrastructure or construction sites. Long range drones can fly really high, a considerably long distance, and for a long time. They have become the perfect devices with which to capture the various geographical features of a place.
Frequently long-range drones are used to map forests, water bodies like rivers, roads, etc. As these features are always changing, it requires regular mapping of such areas to keep the maps updated.
With the introduction of these aerial platforms, understanding geographical features has become easy. Long-range drones have helped business users to employ multispectral images. This in turn assist the scientists to have required knowledge of the climatological measurements of an area.
The best way to have good surveillance of an area is by doing so aerially. Long range drones are regularly used to keep an eye on people, groups, activities, infrastructure, etc.
Multirotor drones are popular with security forces because they allow them to be on a look-out for any incidents, while maintaining a safe distance, over a long period of time and hover over a POI.
- a multirotor drone makes sense if an application needs limited geographical coverage or has narrowly defined physical constraints.
- a fixed wing drone is probably a better alternative. If the user application requires wider geographic coverage or needs to operate at higher altitudes.
A VTOL aircraft combines the ability of a rotor aircraft to take-off and land anywhere with the speed, range, endurance and payload carrying capabilities of a fixed wing.
There are a number of approaches to VTOL configurations of UAV platforms.
Option1:ADD same engines for Lift to aircraft
One benefit of this option is that Engine 2 can be optimized for Lift. On the downside, it adds additional drag and weight
Option2:TILT the same engines
The option allows for the same engine to be used for both Lift and Cruise. On the downside the engine setup now is suboptimal for forward flight (Cruise).
Option 3: SUPPLEMENT lift engines to Tilt engines
This option is a useful comprise of the first two. Engine 2 is smaller and intended to be supplemental to Engine 1 for Lift. This lessens the drag and weight disadvantages of Option 1.
Multi-Rotor (MR) Drones
Multirotor drones are better at getting into confined spaces, ie under bridges. They can hover over a specific area to capture more information and need little space for taking-off and landing.
Most multirotor drones can fly up to 15-30 minutes. Some high endurance multirotor drones achieve both Beyond Visual Long of Sight (BVLOS) long range missions and the ability to hover and maintain a focus on a Point of Interest (POI) when required during such missions.
The biggest advantage of multirotor drones is the ability for take-off and land vertically. This allows the user to operate with in a smaller vicinity with little landing/take off area required. Their capacity to hover and performs agile manoeuvring makes multirotor drones UAVs ideal for applications like inspections. Where precision manoeuvring for extended periods of time is required.
The multirotor drones also involve a greater mechanical and electronic complexity. This costs more and lasts longer but can become harder to maintain later. Multirotor drones have a shorter learning curve and is more responsive to pilot control.
Fixed Wing (FW) Drones
When it comes to mapping very large areas, fixed wing aircraft have an advantage due to endurance ability, and can fly faster and much higher, when needed. A large farm can be flown in a single flight and while still capturing data at a relatively micro level. A key advantage of a fixed wing drone is that it consists of a much simpler structure in comparison to a multirotor drone.
Another advantage of fixed wing drone is the flight characteristics due to their natural gliding capabilities. This results in them being able to carry payloads for longer distances on less power.
One of the major disadvantages to a fixed wing solution is the need for a runway or launcher for take-off. Also fixed wing aircraft require air moving over their wings to generate lift, they must stay in a constant forward motion. This means they can’t stay stationary the same way a multirotor drone can. This also means that fixed wing solutions are not best suited for stationary applications like inspection work. The uncontrolled landings of many fixed wing designs also mean a lot of wear and tear and a shorter lifespan of the aircraft.
Fixed Wing vs Multirotor and where VTOL (colour coded) can make the biggest difference
|Fixed wing drones can stay in the air for much longer, they get all of their lift from their wings and just use their motor for thrust. In the absence of aerodynamics afforded fixed wings, Multirotor drones, consume much more energy just to stay in the air.
|A big drawback of fixed wing is that it needs a larger area for take-off and landing. Short life span: uncontrolled landings, assisted take-offs. For the multirotor drone, Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) coupled with the ability to hover allows you to fly your mission in a very tight space.
|Fixed wings fly faster and captures data less accurately and in less detail. A multirotor drone flies slower capturing data more accurately and in more detail.
|A fixed wing is faster but can’t hover. A multirotor drone can fly on any axis and at any speed. This makes it ideal for filming or inspection work where space is tight like between buildings or under bridges. It is also capable of flying indoors and hover around a POI. Multirotor drones are much easier to fly for pilots.
|In the past fixed wings have had the edge when it comes to the size and amount of kit they can carry. With miniaturization of technology and improved batteries and motors, multirotor drones are catching up quickly. Multirotor drones can also handle LiDAR, which is used for three-dimensional surveying.
|Fixed wing aircraft for surveying tend to be large and cumbersome to transport where multirotor drones can be folded up into much more compact and mobile cases or carry bags
|Long range fixed wings often have an advantage over multirotor drones.
With VTOL FIXED WINGS one is able to resolve the Take-Off area constraints and improve maneuverability of Fixed Wings but is likely to sacrifice some performance (endurance/speed) as a result.
It does become a more complicated machine and, size remains a challenge, and the price is likely to increase.
On balance an assessment will however tilt in favor of the VTOL. Combining the best of both worlds. In summary the benefits of a VTOL configuration include:
- A VTOL platform requires less ground based support infrastructure and physical space.
- While a VTOL provides a little less in terms of aerodynamic performance, it is significantly superior to other rotor craft.
- The slight sacrifice in flight performance (speed and range) is well made up with the increase in terrestrial mobility. It can be moved much closer to target areas and attain hover mode in a shorter space of time.
- The slower ascent and descent of VTOL aircraft improves safety during landing and takeoff phases.
The ATLAS-V is a fixed-wing VTOL unmanned aerial system (UAS) designed and manufactured by NEXTECH. It can support multiple missions of small tactical military units. As well as search-and-rescue (SAR) teams. The purpose-built propulsion system, complemented by extended payload options and rapid payload integration. This results in optimised performance.