First full flight for the Air­Mule, but not en­tirely smooth

The Witness - Wheels - - MOTORING - BEN COXWORTH

A LOT has hap­pened since we first heard about the Air­Mule, a pro­to­type VTOL ( Ver­ti­cal Take­off and Land­ing) air­craft that fea­tures in­ter­nal ro­tor blades — these work along with the hor­i­zon­tal-thrust ducted fans vis­i­ble at the rear.

First, it made some teth­ered au­ton­o­mous test flights. Then, it flew un­teth­ered for a short dis­tance.

Now, known as the Cor­morant UAV, it’s made its first full un­teth­ered au­ton­o­mous flight … although there were a cou­ple of hic­cups.

De­signed by Is­raeli firm Tac­ti­cal Ro- botics, the Cor­morant is de­signed to de­liver troops, civil­ian pas­sen­gers or other cargo within tight quar­ters where he­li­copters with ex­posed ro­tor blades just can’t go. With the UAV in its name stand­ing for Un­manned Aerial Ve­hi­cle, the idea is that it will per­form these tasks ei­ther au­tonomously or by re­mote con­trol.

The lat­est test took place in Is­rael on Novem­ber 3, last­ing only about two min­utes and in­volv­ing low flight over un­even ter­rain.

While the air­craft did suc­cess­fully demon­strate au­ton­o­mous flight modes such as take­off, climb, ac­cel­er­a­tion, cruise, de­cel­er­a­tion, de­scent, turns, hover and touch­down, it is hoped that sub­se­quent flights will be able to smooth out the tran­si­tions be­tween those modes.

Ad­di­tion­ally, there were points in the flight at which the Cor­morant’s Flight Man­age­ment Sys­tem ( FMS) had to over­ride er­ro­neous judg­ments made by the Flight Con­trol Sys­tem ( FCS).

The FCS ba­si­cally flies the UAV, util­is­ing in­put from on­board sen­sors such as two laser al­time­ters, a radar al­time­ter, in­er­tial sen­sors and an elec­tro- op­tic pay­load cam­era.

On two oc­ca­sions, how­ever, ground con­di­tions caused in­ac­cu­rate laser al­time­ter read­ings, mak­ing the FCS mis­judge the air­craft’s height above the ground.

On a third oc­ca­sion, “poor judge­ment” by the FCS caused the Cor­morant to de­scend too early for its land­ing.

In all three cases, the FMS determined that FCS’s ac­tions were flawed, and over­rode them. As Tac­ti­cal Ro­bot­ics puts it: “While the FCS was ‘ learning’ to fly the air­craft through the var­i­ous pat­tern ma­noeu­vres, the FMS was con­tin­u­ously mon­i­tor­ing the level of safety, and mak­ing judg­ments re­gard­ing if and when to in­ter­vene.” — New Atlas.

“Now, known as the Cor­morant UAV, it’s made its first full un­teth­ered au­ton­o­mous flight … although there were a cou­ple of hic­cups.”


The Cor­morant air­mule dur­ing its first flight tests.

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