Krossblade Aerospace is touting its SkyProwler “transformer” unmanned air vehicle to the delivery market in the hope that once airspace regulations are lifted, it will offer speedy delivery of parcels across the USA.
Using a “switchblade technique”, the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft converts into a fixed-wing platform mid-flight, before becoming road-able when it lands, a capability the company believes will lend itself to the delivery market.
It has so far undergone some 100h of testing in Arizona, and the company is now in the process of marketing the UAV to interested parties. It has approached the main US delivery services regarding the utilisation of the SkyProwler technology for parcel delivery.
“I think Google and Amazon could be interested, but so could supermarkets and other chains,” says chief executive Dan Lubrich. “I think the SkyProwler is great for deliveries – it can carry a large payload for its size and can travel at high speeds.”
Regulation is the biggest hurdle, he adds, and the company is prioritising this in the USA as it forecasts that it will be the largest market in terms of demand for this type of technology.
Lubrich acknowledges that the certification may take a while, “not necessarily because it isn’t safe but because it’s a new technology” that needs to be considered.
“There is only a pilot on board aircraft because people like to have a pilot on board,” he adds. “Mistakes are mainly down to pilot error. This [technology] just isn’t accepted yet.”
When driverless cars come to the market the regulation for this will ease and the demand will increase, Lubrich believes. “I really hope the driverless car will help in the public perception of this technology,” he says.
The company is also in the process of developing the SkyCruiser five-seater manned aircraft, which incorporates the switchblade design. Krossblade is currently outlining the design concept. It will begin building a prototype at the end of 2015 ahead of flight testing in 2016, and expects the aircraft to be certificated three years after that.
“There is a race with these flying cars,” Lubrich says. “I think this could already be used in everyday life.”
However, it is the regulation of the rotary part of the aircraft that poses the largest challenge. The Cruiser does not have an auto-rotate capability, an element deemed by some as imperative to safety.
“We believe it won’t require this,” Lubrich says. “The FAA is certifying the [Bell Boeing] V-22 for commercial flight, and that is a tiltrotor and doesn’t auto-rotate, but it has two engines.
“Redundancy is the answer to having no auto-rotation. We’re working on integrating different levels of redundancy into the Cruiser in case of fail.”
It is a hybrid design, so the aircraft can travel some way on either the combustion engine or battery power sources. “Safety is going to be very important,” he says.
The company is confident that the SkyCruiser will be in use “by the end of the decade”, Lubrich adds.