The largest commercial drone manufacturer in South Africa, ALTi, says that the day of the fixed-wing, VTOL drone could be here.
In a piece titled “What is BVLOS and What Does it Mean to Commercial Drone Users,” the company points out that flight beyond visual line of sight represents a significant change, not only in regulations but for the development of drone technology.
“There are 2 key factors that make BVLOS flight a tipping point for commercial drone industry expansion,” says ALTi. “The first is enabling service providers to conduct complex drone operations. The second is enabling drones to be able to conduct truly unmanned flight with no pilot needed for take-off or landing.”
While automation is a hot topic in the drone industry, so are regulations. As interest in and adoption of commercial drones increases, concerns over safety have also increased. The concept of “airworthiness” is one that strikes fear into the heart of manufacturers: it represents a potentially changing standard which could severely limit development. When Canada first introduced a draft of new drone regulations, “airworthiness” was expressed in a way which would have outlawed the vast majority of commonly used commercial drones, certifying only a few of the more expensive models.
In addition to meeting aircraft standards, ALTi points out, commercial drones for BVLOS flight will need reliable detect and avoid technologies as well as reliable communication technologies, like satellite, cell and radio. Fixed-wing VTOL craft could offer the best package for all requirements: long distance flight, efficient use of power, and automation possibilities.
“Fixed-wing VTOL is the best solution for long-range BVLOS flight. VTOL stands for vertical take-off and landing. Multi-rotor UAVs have less flight time and battery life than fixed-wing UAVs, because they use a significant amount of thrust to hover and mainly rely on downward thrust to keep in the air. This is inefficient. The best combination for BVLOS is fixed-wing VTOL because of the longer flight time, battery life and efficient forward flying.”
“BVLOS will change the game for commercial drone users, and will enable them to gather data over large areas without the drone operator having to be in close proximity to the drone,” says ALTi. “….For the first time we are starting to see affordable, reliable solutions of various types in this space that are able to make BVLOS work.”