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AirMule unmanned VTOL aircraft flies towards full mission demonstration

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December 19, 2013

'Quick Robin, to the AirMule!'

'Quick Robin, to the AirMule!'

Image Gallery (4 images)

If you saw The Dark Knight Rises, then you no doubt remember the very cool-looking Batwing aircraft in which Mr. Wayne flew over the streets of Gotham. Perhaps you thought that while it was pretty impressive, there was no way that anything like it could work in real life. Well hey, guess what? The Batwing-like AirMule VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Landing) prototype aircraft recently demonstrated its ability to fly autonomously, bringing it one step closer to carrying out a full mission demo.

The AirMule is made by Israel's Tactical Robotics Ltd., and can be flown either by remote control or using its own autonomous control system – there's no onboard human pilot. Among other things, it's intended for the evacuation of wounded personnel in war zones while under anti-aircraft fire.

In its current form, it weighs 770 kg (1,700 lb), can carry a payload of up to 640 kg (1,400 lb), has a potential top speed of 180 km/h (112 mph), and can reach a maximum altitude of 12,000 ft (3,658 m).

The AirMule, shortly after take-off

What makes it particularly Batwingish, however, are the internal rotor blades contained within its body (as distinct from the shrouded props at the back). This design feature should allow it to land in tight or uneven areas where the open blades of a regular helicopter could be damaged by striking objects ... objects such as people. It can presently land and take-off within an area of 40 square meters (430.5 sq ft).

The internal rotor blades are reportedly also much quieter than those of a helicopter, giving the matte-black AirMule some added stealth.

In the latest tests, announced yesterday, it autonomously performed a vertical take-off, flew to the end of a runway, then turned around on the spot and flew back to its starting point. It maintained altitude using two laser altimeters (a radar altimeter is also on the way), while maintaining positioning via a combination of GPS, an inertial navigation system, and optical reference to markers on the ground.

Plans now call for "full mission demonstrations" next year, utilizing a second prototype that is currently under construction.

A video of the tests can be seen below.

Source: Tactical Robotics Ltd.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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17 Comments

It does not appear to have much space for cargo.

Slowburn
19th December, 2013 @ 11:40 pm PST

Slowburn, i would guess it would be slung underneath, also since its a prototype this could just be a proof of concept vehicle with later versions having large storage areas...

Mack McDowell
20th December, 2013 @ 12:45 am PST

Range will be the crucial factor. They could hardly be regarded as consumables in these straitened times.

Mel Tisdale
20th December, 2013 @ 02:46 am PST

@Mack McDowell - This vehicle can not do underslung cargo from what I've read about it through the years. This vehicle is either the latest iteration of or direct offspring form the Urban Aeronautics X-Hawk. The X-Hawk stuff shows a better picture of how they would load injured persons or cargo into the vehicle.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urban_Aeronautics_X-Hawk

Tracking back it looks like Urban Aero split off the above company for military vehicles and one for civil vehicles based on the x-hawk platform so the x-hawk pictures should give a decent epresentation of the vehicle.

VirtualGathis
20th December, 2013 @ 04:16 am PST

http://www.airforce-technology.com/projects/airmule-uav/

Here is a site with more information. It indicates they are developing a cargo version.

This was on a documentary on flying vehicles. It showed a cargo bay that items could be put into or an injured person.

Perhaps one day it could be adapted to be a flying car?

BigGoofyGuy
20th December, 2013 @ 05:48 am PST

Doesn't sound much quieter than a conventional helicopter.

michael_dowling
20th December, 2013 @ 08:29 am PST

Total available cargo volume is 2,640 liters (93 ft^3); 1,540 liters of which are internal (770 liters in each of the main cabin compartments) and an additional 1,100 liters available in an optional belly mounted compartment.

http://www.urbanaero.com/category/airmule

Danock
20th December, 2013 @ 08:38 am PST

This is designed to pick up wounded on a battlefield and carry them hanging from a rope and hook? Sounds like it might scare the life out of anybody to get scooped up by a flying blender and flown a mile to an aid station. They should make it look like a teddy bear so as not to increase trauma!

Botat16
20th December, 2013 @ 09:59 am PST

The layout is much better for a UAV than it is for a manned aircraft. Any crew would be in the middle between the fans instead of in front with an unobstructed view of the ground. So a flying car is unlikely to come from this.

theotherwill
20th December, 2013 @ 10:42 am PST

Looks like something from shadow run

Mike Douglas
20th December, 2013 @ 11:51 am PST

Cool looking! But I think the correct Movie Metaphor is'nt Batman & Batwings but rather Judgement Day with Skynet, Cybergen, and malevolent former employees an attitude issue, think Eddie Snowden...

StWils
20th December, 2013 @ 01:05 pm PST

Looks very cool. With the propellers shrouded, it avoids the hazards of exposed rotors making it suitable to use near buildings in an urban environment. But as michael_dowling opined, the noise level seemed pretty high, like a screaming banshee! During an engine out emergency, though, the single engine machine would drop like a brick without the option of autorotation. A ballistic parachute system could be a life saver at higher altitudes.

The AirMule design is highly reminiscent of the Piaseki Airgeep of the late 1950's made for a US Army program. Chrysler and Curtiss-Wright produced competing designs. All were scrapped by the 1960's. So the question is, fifty plus years later, will modern materials, electronics and engines make the difference?

Nostromo47
20th December, 2013 @ 02:23 pm PST

This is the start of the future movility.

Esteban Sperber Frankel
20th December, 2013 @ 02:32 pm PST

StWils, you took the words right out of my mouth... err, my keyboard :-)

Aloysius
21st December, 2013 @ 12:20 am PST

Aircar!

Yes, there are problems to be solved, but wherever there's a will, there's a way.

Edgar Castelo
21st December, 2013 @ 12:45 am PST

Arrrg. have the engine(s) - blades - fuel as one unit on a tall (maybe telesoping ) mast The air or whatever vectored out slightly so ground debri directly underneath is not stirred up. You could have cross booms at the bottom of mast for attaching to cargo unit or rest on ground when not powered up. Could use 3 or 4 winch cables dropping down from the propulsion unit instead of a mast. The idea is that of a real SKY HOOK.

Dave B13
23rd December, 2013 @ 05:55 am PST

The MOLLER SkyCar 400 was THE way forward for these types of VTOL craft. That could do 400 MPH on pump fuel, had the fans and engines Done, and it had much better safety, load/range and from an established company. But none of that seems to matter these days, only that THEIR ppl get the contracts.

PaulYak
14th January, 2014 @ 07:49 am PST
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