Urban Aeronautics plans to begin the series production of its Cormorant unmanned air vehicle no later than 2021.
On 3 November, the Cormorant prototype performed its first autonomous pattern flight, including low flight over uneven terrain.
Pattern flights are routine for conventional fixed wing aircraft and rotorcraft, the company says, but this is a significant milestone for an entirely new family of aircraft, which includes Urban’s proprietary technology known as Fancraft.
The Cormorant's autopilot relies primarily on inertial and ground reference, which is more complex than flying through open, unobstructed airspace, the company says.
“This industry-first event begins to demonstrate the Cormorant’s capability to operate close to the ground and inside obstructed terrain, in environments previously inaccessible to existing aircraft [with a] similar payload,” it adds.
Rafi Yoeli, the company’s founder and president, says the flight paves the way for the evolution of Cormorant from a prototype to near-term production, and the ultimate commercialisation of the technology.
He notes that the final configuration of the Cormorant has been decided on, and technological development has been completed.
Yoeli adds that based on the success of this flight, upcoming flights will test ongoing development to improve the smoothness of transitions through the various flight modes.
The series production model will have a 1.5-ton take-off weight and use a Safran Arriel 2+ engine. The Cormorant demonstrator is powered by an Arriel 1D driving two ducted fans.
In September the company signed a memorandum of understanding with Safran Helicopter Engines, so the two could co-study new market opportunities to support the development of a new family of internal-rotor aircraft.
Under the agreement, Safran and Urban Aeronautics intend to pursue their co-operation through pre-series and production phases of new full-scale vertical-lift manned or unmanned vehicles, especially those intended for use in urban environments in the air-taxi, medevac and transport roles.
Safran will also bring its technical and industrial expertise to bear in the development of the Cormorant.