Aerovel has completed a two-week demonstration of its tail-sitter Flexrotor unmanned air vehicle operating from a ship off the Alaskan coast.

The UAV, which has a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capability, was used for reconnaissance tasks to help guide the ship through the ice-choked Arctic waters.

Over the 14-day period, the 22kg (50lb) Flexrotor carried out five flights totalling 19h, relaying data from its optical sensors back to its home vessel.

Aerovel says the operation was “safer and more practical” than could be achieved using a manned aircraft “and less costly”.

Performed with partners Precision Integrated and Fairweather Science, the mission involved guiding the ship to retrieve anchors from mooring sites spread across the region.

“Flexrotor is in a class all its own for this sort of work,” says Matt Parker, vice-president of Precision Integrated, which was contracted by Alaska’s Fairweather Science to carry out the mission.

“Its small footprint makes on board setup quick and easy; launch and retrieval are done with no disruption to the ship’s activity; and its long range and endurance are immensely powerful.”

Key to its success was the Flexrotor’s VTOL performance: other fixed-wing systems require more space on board a vessel to operate from, notably for their recovery, which is typically performed using a net or cable.

The tail-sitter Flexrotor runs on petrol and takes off and lands in an upright position, tilting to forward flight once airborne.