Up'n stable: after a somewhat hesitant debut, the unmanned vertical take-off and landing aircraft now appears to have come of age. This is for a major part due to innovative techniques, miniaturized autopilots and navigation suites as well as restored credibility amongst potential users.

Author:Biass, Eric H.
Position:Drone Update
 
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All of a sudden, the engine crackled to life k and after a short warm-up the typical chatter of helicopter blades biting into the air cut in and the white bird cleanly broke contact with the grass field of the Austrian countryside. It resolutely soared, soared and soared and then steadily remained in a hover flight as if held by an invisible, but firm, hand in the sky--hardly any 'wobbling', or involuntary rolling and pitching throughout the sequence. The S-100 then transitioned to forward flight, turned right to cross the author's field of view, cleanly turned right again and flew away into the distance only to return minutes later to perform a long hover before smoothly landing in full automatic mode simulating datalink failure (the pictures of the event taken by the author involve the experimental aircraft which carries various back-up aerials and sensors that will not appear on a production model).

The first feature that characterizes the sleek S-100 is its stability, in spite of small wind gusts during this demonstration staged by Schiebel not far from Vienna. This is not Schiebel's first inroad on the helicopter drone scene as the Austrian firm--originally, and still, a landmine-detection specialist of high international repute--had earlier developed and produced a short series of smaller Campcopters, the 5.1. The Camcopter S-100, which was first featured in Armada 2/2005, is an entirely different breed though, as it uses a monocoque carbon-composite airframe with integral fuel tanks. In other words, all ribbings and double skins are one single piece. Mechanically, the engine is basically a Sachs rotary piston block that has been highly modified to incorporate a home-built fuel injection system and a double power generator. Likewise, the redundant autopilot, trebled flight control computers and ground-based computer are also proprietary developments. Normal maintenance is scheduled at 250-flight-hour intervals although a routine change of spark plugs is recommended at every 50 flight hours, while the gearbox is a 10,000-hour no-maintenance affair.

In designing the S-100 Schiebel's aim was to offer the same performance as a fixed-wing drone of the same payload category. It can thus fly at 120 knots, stay aloft for six hours and has a 150 km omni-directional datalink range at an above-ground height of 9000 ft. The chopper is designed to fly back home and land automatically (which it did during the demonstration, as said above). Both the...

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