An Israeli company that spent a decade developing an autonomous, unmanned vertical takeoff and landing craft utilizing internal lift rotors says its first prototype is now going through flight tests and it’s at work on a second prototype.
Called the AirMule, the rotorcraft is envisioned for use as an unmanned transport – ferrying supplies into a combat zone or taking out wounded – operating in areas where helicopters and fixed-wing planes cannot.
Defense Tech first came across this work-in progress in 2009, when Urban Aeronautics Ltd. of Israel was preparing to demonstrate flight tests using a smaller, electrically-driven model to validate the basic technology. It now has a full-scale version being put through its paces.
Tactical Robotics Ltd., the UA subsidiary now handling development of the AirMule, says the vehicle will weigh 1,700 lbs, carry a payload of 1,400 pounds and fly at a maximum altitude of 12,000 feet. It will also make speeds of about 112 miles per hour.
The company says on its website that the UAV was designed to address lessons learned from its 2006 war in Lebanon as well as those learned by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of these is an urgent need to evacuate wounded personnel in situations where anti-aircraft fire poses too great a threat to helicopters, or from terrain where traditional helos cannot operate.
In addition to combat, the company is pitching AirMule – in particular a version it will manufacture as an ambulance – for homeland security, natural disaster and first responder missions.