SINGAPORE AIRSHOW: New Hybrid Unmanned Helicopter Makes a Splash

By Meredith Roaten

Steadicopter photo

SINGAPORE — Israeli drone maker Steadicopter has developed a new variant of an unmanned helicopter which the company showed off at the Singapore Airshow.

The platform, called Black Eagle 50, features a new hybrid-electric engine. The drone’s extended range and additional payload capacity make it stand out in a crowded field of unmanned products, said Or Saf, marketing and project manager for Steadicopter.

“There's a lot of interest thanks to the electric and hybrid [technology] because it's really a game changer,” he said.

The platform was unveiled just weeks before the airshow, and orders are already coming in. The company will deliver the first 50 systems this year, he said.

Steadicopter offers gasoline-powered and all-electric drones, but the new hybrid platform allows for greater mission flexibility. For example, the more efficient gas engine extends the drone’s endurance while electric mode allows for more stealthy operations, he said.

“If we want to fly for a long time, we can use the petrol to reach the target,” Saf said. “If we want to be silent without any noise provocation, we switch to battery.”

The drone can fly for up to five hours using gas and up to 30 minutes in electric mode.

With a length of about 10 feet and a maximum takeoff weight of 50 kilograms, the helicopter can be operated from almost anywhere, Saf said. A payload weighing up to 12 kilograms can be attached to the platform, he added.

Border monitoring and defense is an example of a mission set where the drone would be useful, he said. The small helicopter can hover for up to three-and-a half hours and reach an altitude of 16,000 feet.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security already operates unmanned platforms including drones along the border with Mexico. It announced earlier this month that robotic quadrupeds could soon be headed toward deployment.

The Black Eagle 50 is controlled by laptop or tablet, allowing an area as small as a van to become an operations center, Saf said.

The aircraft is already certified in Israel for beyond visual line-of-sight operations, and the company is pursuing certification in countries where Steadicopter is making sales.

In recent years, the U.S. government’s experimentation with drones has expanded into manned-unmanned systems teaming. Steadicopter so far hasn’t seen much demand for teaming its drones with manned platforms, but "if we have some customer demands, we can do it,” Saf said.

Topics: Robotics and Autonomous Systems

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