AUVSI: AeroVironment looks to expand into VTOL

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Building upon its work on a DARPA program, AeroVironment said on Tuesday that it intends to release an unmanned vertical takeoff and landing system in the next three or four years.

Tom Herring, senior vice president and general manager of UAS for AeroVironment, said the only information presently available is that it will be a battery-powered quadrotor that will have a "longer duration than anything out there today."

The aircraft is currently referred to as Shrike, the name of the DARPA program that seeks a perch-and-stare-capable quadrotor that can transmit data back via a digital data link.

The DARPA program is similar to the Nano Air Vehicle, another DARPA program that AeroVironment carried though to Phase 2, the prototype stage. Matthew Keennon, AV's head on the project, says the company is still looking for either Phase 3 funding from DARPA or money from another government agency.

 Matthew Keennon: a bird in the hand
©2011 Billypix 
Matthew Keennon: a bird in the hand

"We'll build whatever they want," says Keennon. "Currently we're trying to figure out exactly what they want."

Possible changes to the system could include improved electronics and a customized battery, since many of the features of the Hummingbird are off the shelf.

"We could actually make it better if we did some custom stuff," says Keennon. "But we were tasked with making a whole system with a somewhat limited budget."

The system currently can fly for 11 minutes, a large improvement over the initial 20-second flight in 2009, which at the time made AeroVironment ecstatic, despite its deafening din that Keennon says "sounded like an Uzi."