Textron Systems demonstrates Aerosonde HQ with VTOL capability

By Patrick C. Miller | October 27, 2016

Textron Systems has not only added vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) ability to its Aerosonde unmanned aircraft system (UAS), but can also fit the entire aircraft and ground control station into a single pickup.

Earlier this month, the company completed a successful customer demonstration of the UAS—known as the Aerosonde HQ—after announcing the proof of concept design in May. Customers who own the fixed-wing Aerosonde can convert it to the HQ model with VTOL capability by buying a field-upgradable kit.

“You can literally exchange the booms with the Aerosonde HQ booms which have in them integral batteries that are completely independent of our Lycoming engine and have electric motors integrated into the booms,” said David Phillips, Textron’s vice president of small and medium-endurance UAS. “It’s a completely independent kit that can be applied or taken off in the field when you need to use it.”

The demonstration—which took place at Textron’s Unmanned Systems Service and Support Center in Blackstone, Virginia—showcased the Aerosonde HQ’s runway-independent vertical takeoff transition to horizontal flight, followed by a landing without the need for any prepositioned personnel or recovery equipment. Previously, the fixed-wing Aerosonde required a launch and recovery trailer and a separate ground control station.

“What this enables us to do is go much smaller, much more expeditionary. We can lose the launch and recovery trailer,” Phillips said. “We can land the Aerosonde anywhere without any prepositioned assets or resources.”

Although the Aerosonde has been used for years by the U.S. military, Textron Systems has also sold it to the oil and gas industry for commercial operations, training and qualifying crews in the company’s schools.

“We’ve developed the Aerosonde HQ primarily for the commercial market because it enables you to go out with an extremely expeditionary system,” Phillips noted. “We demonstrated operation of the system from a vehicle-mounted control station.”

According to Phillips, the entire system has been integrated into a Ford F250 pickup.

“All of the curved screens and operator displays are inside the vehicle,” he explained. “In the back of the truck is a slide-out tray to house the UAS. The aircraft can execute a vertical takeoff, come back and vertically land. Everything exists within that truck to execute that mission.”

With a flight endurance of eight hours and a 10,000-foot service ceiling, the entire Aerosonde HQ system enables a crew to conduct long-range, long-endurance missions in a 75 to 80 nautical mile radius, covering up to 160 linear miles of infrastructure in a day, then reposition for operations the next day. Phillips said it’s ideal for inspecting railroads, transmission lines and pipelines.

Sean Baity, chief engineer of civil and Commercial products, said the entire system can be air-freighted out to conduct operations internationally. It can also be fitted on small boats for commercial and civil operations where space is at a premium.

Baity said the Coast Guard is interested in having a UAS that can operate in coordination with ship-borne helicopters for search-and-rescue missions. In addition, Arctic expeditions with the need for ice mapping would also be a useful application, he noted.

“Since announcing our development program earlier this year, we have received great interest from numerous potential customers—including some who are already working with us on our fee-for-service programs for the Aerosonde sUAS,” said Bill Irby, Textron Systems Unmanned Systems senior vice president and general manager.


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