Sky Hopper UAV to carry 100 kg
A group of UK engineers has plans to build a mid-mass logistics drone for global markets. The system will be aimed initially at remote and isolated communities, but ultimately will be capable of near urban operations.
The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) system, called Sky Hopper, is an electrically powered tri-fan design to be constructed at Prestwick in the West of Scotland. Its avionics are being developed in Hampshire in South Central England. Cargo mass load is 100 kg (220 lb).
The Sky Hopper team is made up of aeronautical engineers, certification and design specialists, electric machine designers, and advanced battery developers. Its promotors stress that the project will follow a carefully managed step-by-step approach.
"Civil UAV development is still in early days," said Project Leader Eben Wilson. "We want to engineer a pathway to a commercial future, and we have the strong team to work through the certification requirements alongside the technical issues. It's a challenge, but it really is time we did this."
"Taking a step upwards to an industrial vehicle demands that we innovate across all our disciplines," commented Dr. Richard Brown, the project's aerodynamicist. "We plan to build a series of demonstrators, resolving structural, power, and flight control needs. We have some of the best skills available, and we are a small, agile team."
Pushing the envelope of unmanned aerial capabilities demands close coordination with the regulators to devise safe operating methods and procedures. "The regulators want a civil UAV industry to develop in the UK," said Fred Gorrie, Technical Lead in design certification and regulation, "but they also want safety equal to normal aerospace industry competences. That's where we want to go too, and we think Scotland gives us the space to do that."
With its thinly inhabited landscape and coast, the West of Scotland offers a unique territory to develop beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) potential while testing autonomous flight capabilities. "The commercial potential for UAV operations is huge globally. We're talking re-supply, infrastructure support, and other as yet unanticipated logistical operations," said Wilson. "We've got to grasp the future and believe in our engineering expertise."
The Sky Hopper project commercial plan includes unmanned delivery networks that set up local communities as franchisees for aero-parks, which are locally owned assets through which multiple Sky Hopper missions are flown, creating revenue for local communities. The end-to-end innovation for the project extends to its funding methods. So far, early prototyping has been privately funded; the founders have invested their own money along with some initial sponsorship funding. A sequenced campaign of further donations, crowd funding via Indiegogo, and a follow up enterprise investment scheme are underway.