UK-based Dragonfly Air Systems says its prototype Globe Skimmer vertical take off and landing (VTOL), ducted fan unmanned air vehicle (UAV) made its first flights in early December while rival developer Autonomous Vehicles International (AVi) plans to conduct first flight testing of its similar Seeker UAV this month.

Both aircraft, based on concepts originally developed by the former Kestrel Aerospace company, use a compact, twin, ducted-fan configuration with a suspended vertical fuselage supporting an electro-optic payload suite.

The parallel development programmes for the two systems were first made public mid 2006 with both firms originally hoping to achieve their respective first flights by August.

Manchester-based AVi chief executive Craig Shaw now says “we have plans for a test flight in January” followed by demonstrations in the second half of February. By the third quarter of 2007 the production model will be available”.

He acknowledges the programme has experienced “technical challenges that have caused the flight delay of the UAV”.

Bournemouth-based Dragonfly conducted three sorties with its Globe Skimmer prototype in early December, completing 10min in the air. The flights included vertical take off, hover, transition to forward flight, return to hover and landing.
Both Seeker and Globe Skimmer are being predominantly developed to support urban operations by military and civil authorities.

The Seeker is expected to be around 620mm (24in) wide and each duct will have an internal diameter of 246mm. The vehicles will have a maximum speed of 25kt (45km/h) and a 2,000ft (600m) ceiling.

Globe Skimmer is some 1.5m wide with an all-up weight of 20kg (44lb). Separate electric- and petrol-powered versions are planned. The electric version will have an endurance of up to 1h, while the petrol version will be able to fly for 2h.