The Urban Aeronautics Company is rounding out preparations for the coming demonstration of its UAV “Air Mule” before the IDF high command. “Air Mule” is designed to transport supplies to fighting forces and medevac troops from fire-saturated battlefields. This outstanding aerial vehicle is unmanned but capable of transporting humans.
Development began in 2007, and it its maiden flight was held in 2009. Since then “Air Mule” has performed several hovering flights, accumulating approximately forty flying hours. The next tests will have it flying at 60 to 100 knots without a ground-based connecting cable (as required until now by the Israeli Civil Aviation Authority). The Defense Ministry is financing half the outlay of “Air Mule”’s operational technologies. Next year Urban Aeronautics will look for a strategic partner, local or foreign, in order to complete the project and commence industrial production.
The systems are being developed in close cooperation with the air force’s chief medical officer and ground forces command. If the IDF confirms its procurement, “Air Mule” is expected to be operational in 2015.
Although Urban Aeronautics’ initial ideas for a UAV were civilian in nature (flights over congested urban transportation systems), after publication of plans to equip the US marines with UAVs capable of transporting humans, the company’s directors decided to concentrate their efforts on the military arena.
Dr. Rafi Yoeli, company CEO and the guiding light behind the initiative, believes that this type of UAV will be able to fly to designated locations; navigate by means of a pre-fed computerized flight program and GPS systems; and land independently. Supplies will be unloaded at the landing site for troops waiting for the UAV. Wounded can be harnessed to special compartments on the sides of the vehicle and then “launched” to an evacuation point.
The “Air mule” is compact: six meters long and two meters wide. Its Turbomeca Ariel jet engine drives two internally enclosed propellers that vertically lift the vehicle and cargo. Employing more than 200 flaps, the UAV’s flight path can be precisely controlled. Urban Aeronautics is developing a number of UAVs that operate on the principle of internally installed propellers. In addition to “Air Mule”, other models include Centaur, designed to carry three to five passengers without a pilot, and X-Hawk, a two-engine model intended to transport five to eight passengers.
“We’re now able to land and take off from any point”, says Dr. Yoeli. “For the first time this lets us evacuate wounded from almost anywhere. Our UAV, carries a gross weight of close to 400 kilos”. Besides civilian and military uses, Dr. Yoeli notes the wide range of other missions where UAVs will prove invaluable: flying above dangerous zones such as nuclear reactors and areas contaminated by chemical plant leaks.
Urban Aeronautics is in contact with the United States Army and the militaries of other nations, including India and Italy, for possible sale of the “Air Mule”.