Urban Aeronautics is developing a variant of its AirMule ducted fan unmanned aircraft that will be equipped with a remotely operated robotic arm to undertake tasks that pose a danger to humans.

Company president Dr Rafi Yoeli said on 27 June that Urban was approached earlier in the month by operators that use helicopters for power line maintenance work, and by agencies responsible for the safety of nuclear reactors.

“They asked if we can provide a solution for hovering for an extended period of time next to a structure that needs maintenance, and actually perform maintenance operations using remotely controlled manipulator arms,” Yoeli said.

Examples could include replacing damaged insulators on power lines, pumping heavy water into pools covering uranium rods inside damaged nuclear reactors, fixing leaking pipes or repairing areas under bridges or marine structures that have suffered corrosion damage, he added.

Urban Aeronautics is continuing tethered hovering tests with its AirMule, with the vehicle now carrying an expanded sensor suite and a new, energy-absorbing wheeled landing gear. It also has received aerodynamic improvements to its lower fuselage to improve its control response in gusty wind conditions.

The company is meanwhile working to secure additional funding that will enable it to continue work over the next few years up to full-scale development and production.

Powered by a Turbomeca Ariel 2 940shp engine, the AirMule has a maximum take-off weight of 1,400kg (3,090lb) and can reach a maximum altitude of 12,000ft (3,660m). Flight endurance is cited as up to 5h, and top speed 97kt (180km/h).

Source: Flight International