Fixed wing drones have advantages – even though rotary-wing craft are in the spotlight these days. Your editor recently saw two quadrotors in a few days: one at a state park, its operators capturing the weekend crowd ogling a spectacular waterfall; and the second at a wedding, photographically memorializing a happy event.
Given the increasing capabilities of civilian drones like those, one wonders where the military and government agencies, without the budget constraints of the average private citizen, can take this trend. John Brown, President and CEO of Silent Falcon, was on hand at the 10th annual Electric Aircraft Symposium held in the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront hotel. His talk explained the array of hardware, software and unique uses for the 14.4-foot wingspan flyer.
Originally conceived by George Bye as part of Bye Aerospace, the airplane spun off into Silent Falcon UAS Technologies, and is now rebranded with a new logo and web site.
Small and quiet enough to avoid detection even when passing overhead, yet large enough to carry a three kilogram (6.6 pound) payload that can fit into its 230-mm-(9 inches) long, 140-mm-(5.5 inches) wide and 200-mm-(8 inches) deep cargo bay, the Silent Falcon can perform a variety of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions.
Payloads can include four different electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors, which can offer enhanced visualization in the visible and invisible light spectra; a gas imaging Midwave Infrared (MWIR) camera. a hyperspectral camera, spectrometer, and three different mapping payloads.
Multispectral imaging can reveal hidden aspects of an otherwise common scene. The video from NEON, the National Ecological Observatory Network, shows the civilian applications of the different types of sensors which Silent Falcon can carry, but at a far lower cost than that of a twin-engine turboprop.
It will have greater range than a multi-fan VTOL machine, because the long wing allows low power settings in cruise, while a quadrotor, for instance, has to lift its total weight continually.
The Silent Falcon might actually have greater endurance than the twin, with solar panels on the wings extending flight times and allowing greater persistence for military and law-enforcement missions. Most fixed-wing UAS’s are limited to a five-to-15 kilometer (3.2-to-9.6 mile) out-and-return mission: the Silent Falcon can do 100 and spend five to seven hours in the sky at a stretch. This can be of great service to officers looking for a lost hiker or a fleeing felon.
Easing requirements for a ground crew, Silent Falcon’s autopilot system can maintain a pre-planned flight path, Brown referring to human pilots as “weak servos.”
For future development and enhancements, the open-interface bus architecture on board allows easy inclusion of new systems. Considering currently available sensors and recording devices, we might be making medical sweeps of neighborhoods in the near future.