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Robinson helicopter tested as UAV for heavy lifts

A Robinson R22 helicopter was converted by UAVOS to an unmanned drone. UAVOS — which specializes in the design, development and manufacturing of unmanned vehicles and autopilot systems — successfully completed in-air programmed missions with the unmanned helicopter.

The first flight this spring of the modernized helicopter lasted more than one hour and was performed in a fully self-piloted mode, reaching an altitude of up to 2,200 feet (670 meters). During the flight, all scheduled tests were performed including fully automatic take-off, enroute flight and landing. The tuning of UAV control settings was completed as well.

The converted R22-UV is serving as a platform for research and testing for commercial UAV options. For instance, upcoming test flights will include cargo delivery of up to 330 pounds (150 kg) in automatic mode. Flights with a duration of 6+ hours using additional fuel tanks and a payload for monitoring the land surface are also planned.

Besides that, UAVOS is planning to check operational limitations of the UAV during night flights and flights under severe weather conditions. A top priority is testing the possibility of using spraying equipment and to see whether R22-UV could serve agricultural purposes.

Components installed. The UAVOS components installed in R22-UV helicopter included autopilot, servo drives, sensor system and additional backup power supply. During the conversion, the aircraft electrical system was upgraded, manual control was removed, the fuselage was altered for servo drives and components of the automatic control system installation. In addition, the pilot seats were removed and replaced by additional fuel tanks.

Powered by a gasoline engine, the unmanned R22-UV helicopter is able to deliver cargo or carry payload with a total weight of up to 330 pounds (150 kg) with a maximum take-off weight of 1,400 pounds (635 kg).

Heavy payloads. The converted aircraft has a practical ceiling of 13,780 feet (4,200 meters) and has a top speed of 189 kph. The UAV is designed to carry high-precision, heavy professional equipment 88 pounds (40 kg and more) for a wide variety of missions including lidar, synthetic aperture radar, heavy optical equipment or gas analyzers.

The R22-UV can be operated in the regions without airfields, under severe weather conditions and during night-time, in the conditions with high stress risk for a pilot. The converted helicopter is useful for oil and gas companies that need to deliver cargo to hard-to-reach places, or where chemicals hazardous to humans are spread on the fields and forests. Operational limits for high-altitude flights and missions in heavy turbulence and high mountain regions should be defined after appropriate testing.

The project was carried out jointly with King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), a scientific government institution of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

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