If everything goes smoothly, a group of anxious but enthusiastic people will stand in mid-2014 on a hill in southern Israel and wait for the AirMule to take off, manoeuvre and land.
This is intended to be the final proof that this special platform can live up to the great expectations it generates.
Urban Aeronautics is accelerating the assembly of a second AirMule prototype in preparation for a series of demonstration flights requested by potential customers.
According to Dr Rafi Yoeli, president and CEO of Urban Aeronautics, the second prototype is intended primarily as a reserve aircraft to ensure uninterrupted flight testing once mission demonstrations to customers are underway.
The first prototype of the AirMule internal rotor vehicle has recently been fitted with a double redundant hydraulic system to enable continued rotor pitch control in case of a failure in one of the pressure supply lines or any hydraulic control system hardware.
The Israeli company is planning to complete an automatic precision landing demonstration in the next few months.
A small stabilised electro-optic payload has already been installed on the AirMule prototype.
The D-STAMP payload, made by Israeli company Controp, is part of the AirMule’s Auto-Land system, which will enable the aircraft to guide itself to a touchdown over any high contrast marker (or alternatively, a laser spot) placed at the precise landing location in the combat zone.
This Auto-Land feature will be the final step towards enabling fully autonomous take-off to landing flight paths using pre-programmed routes.
Accurate positioning will be maintained en-route by an on-board inertial navigation system (INS) in conjunction with a GPS or, alternatively, a Doppler navigation unit.
Yoeli said that while the plan is still to equip the final, production variant with the 940 SHP Arriel-2 engine, installation of this engine in the second prototype may be postponed.
“We are evaluating the impact of a new engine on our schedule and budget and may decide to stay with the same engine model presently used on our No 1 prototype (the 730 SHP Arriel-1) for our second prototype.”
The time and costs saved are mostly due to the fact that the company already has all the parts it needs to assemble a second set of gearboxes and shafts, all rated for the Arriel-1 engine power level. Subsequent work, following first demonstrations to customers, will be to upgrade the systems and transition the aircraft to the Arriel-2 engine.
The use of the Arriel-2 will allow a maximum take-off weight of 3,100lb (1,407kg), an endurance of five hours (or one hour with a 500kg useful load) and a maximum altitude of 12,000ft.
Yoeli expects the second prototype to be ready for take-off within a year.
The AirMule may change the way some missions in the combat zone are performed.
Some are sceptical about its ability to do this. Others say that this platform is what commanders have been waiting for. The next few years will prove who is right.