Farnborough Air Show

Tiny drones perform in indoor arena

 - July 16, 2010, 12:01 AM
As part of a concerted drive to increase the number of unmanned aircraft displays at the Farnborough show, organizers have installed a special netted area in Hall Three where exhibitors are flying small unmanned aerial systems (UAS). As it works with aviation authorities on long-term plans to fly larger unmanned aircraft at future shows, Farnborough International has imposed a maximum limit of 20 kg (44 pounds) for aircraft being demonstrated here.

Among the UASs on show this week are Yellowplane’s autonomous flying wing, which features an AttoPilot autopilot and can fly for up to two hours at speeds of up to 46 knots. The UK firm is also exhibiting its larger–nearly five-foot wingspan–Boomerang UAS in the outside flying displays.

Also on display is the Falcon 8 Octocopter, an unmanned mini-helicopter with eight rotors that is operated by UK company Flying Scotscam. The aircraft’s eight separate motors are controlled by computer and, when used with a GPS and inertial measurement unit, it can hold its position in winds of up to 20 mph because the remote operator can essentially lock it into a fixed position and then concentrate on the mission.

The Falcon 8 is equipped with a gyro-stabilized, high-definition camera that can capture video and still images for tasks such as inspecting building exteriors and bridges. These images can be relayed to a screen on the ground to give the client a quick impression of any issues that might require closer inspection.

Also part of the light UAS line-up here at Farnborough 2010 is the Rotomotion family of fully autonomous helicopters from ASM Europe. According to managing director Pietro Amati, the company has relocated to the UK from the U.S. for several reasons, including the restrictions that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration continues to impose on unmanned flight applications. ASM also is looking to get into the European market and has entered into a joint venture with the UK’s Roke Manor Research to develop new UAS flight control software and an automatic landing system to allow aircraft to land on moving structures (such as ships).

ASM’s SR20, SR100 and SR300 aircraft are suited to missions of up to three hours’ duration. The company is now developing “full-sized” unmanned helicopters that will be able to fly for up to eight hours and that could be armed with a small machine gun, as well as a variety of cameras and sensors.

Finally, the new Varos UAS is also being displayed here at Farnborough in the indoor display netted area. According to its UK manufacturer, Fibreflight, the lightweight aircraft with a ducted propulsion system can safely be used in environments that would not be suitable for conventional fixed-wing or rotary UAS.