The gasoline-electric hybrid multi-rotor from the Advance Aircraft Company for continuous use by drones stays in the air up to eight times longer than conventional multi-rotors.
By DRONELIFE Staff Writer Jim Magill
A young drone manufacturing company run by a former NASA aeronautical engineer recently announced the launch of its first commercial product, an unmanned multirotor aircraft with a gasoline-electric hybrid propulsion system that allows it to stay in the air up to eight times longer than conventional multirotor drones.
On August 4th, Advance Aircraft Company (AAC), based in Hampton, Virginia, unveiled its Hybrid Advanced Multirotor (HAMR) unmanned aircraft system. The drone’s key features are its high-performance hybrid gas-electric propulsion system and aerodynamic airframe design, which enable long-term drone operation and give AAC customers a significant competitive advantage by doubling the productivity of their drone pilots, said company founder and CEO Bill Fredericks.
“Our customers have per hectare revenue and pay their pilots by the hour, so productivity is important to them,” Fredericks said in an interview.
The HAMR hybrid propulsion system comprises an electronically injected and computer-controlled 35 cc single-piston engine. This configuration powers an integrated 2,000 W generator that powers six independent, brushless DC motors and a backup battery. The aircraft’s architecture allows it to stay in the air for up to 3.5 hours straight, six to eight times longer than a conventional battery-powered multi-rotor aircraft.
Unlike more conventional battery-powered multirotor drones, which averaged only about 3.4 hours of productive flight time on a typical 8-hour day, HAMR pilots can achieve up to six hours of productive flight time per day, Fredericks said.
Although the company’s UAVs, which are made in the United States, cost four to six times what a comparable Chinese drone would cost, the productivity gain increases the productivity of the HAMR in a matter of months, Fredericks said.
Lifelong love for aviation
The introduction of a commercial unmanned aerial vehicle system is the culmination of a long-cherished dream for Fredericks, himself a private pilot licensed to operate gliders and single- and multi-engine manned aircraft.
“I started flying gliders when I was 13,” he said. “I have my own plane, a Piper Lance.”
Fredericks graduated from Purdue University with a degree in aerospace engineering, where he received his fourth degree in his class. He served as an artillery officer in the Marine Corps and was posted to Afghanistan in 2011. After leaving the Marines, he worked as an aerospace engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. “I’m the only person who can say I’m both a Marine and a legitimate NASA rocket scientist,” he said.
While at NASA, Fredericks led the project to develop Greased Lightning, a 10-engine remote-controlled aircraft that can take off and fly like an airplane like a helicopter. After the aircraft was successfully built and tested, “we put the project on the shelf and disbanded the team to work on the next jobs,” he said.
“So I said to myself, do I want to become a civil servant or do I want to see this technology, which we have just proven feasible, commercialized?” He said. With the aim of developing a commercial unmanned aircraft system, he left government service and founded AAC in 2017.
After four years of development, testing and validation, the company entered the market for unmanned systems with HAMR on August 4th. AAC also announced the completion of a second round of funding from its investors. The latest $ 850,000 funding round, led by Shenandoah Valley Angel Investors with investments from CIT Gap Funds, brings the company’s total funding to over $ 2 million.
Because it is a multirotor vehicle that can fly at low speeds, the HAMR is well suited for surveying and mapping and other applications that require LiDAR, Fredericks said. Other potential commercial applications for the HAMR include: infrastructure inspection and security, and atmospheric and marine research. In the area of security and public safety, potential applications include: long-term surveillance, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), and search and rescue missions.
Fredericks said the aircraft’s modular design allows the company to customize the drones to suit the customer’s needs. For example, the HAMR has two interchangeable payload bays, one in the nose cone and one in the belly of the aircraft, which gives customers great flexibility in designing the drone configuration.
For example, one of AAC’s first customers, an oil and gas company, wanted to customize the drone to detect volatile methane leaks from its operations. said Friedrich.
“They love the fact that the vehicle has an open platform with two different payload bays, so they incorporate three different types of methane sniffers,” he said. The aircraft is configured to carry an optical gas imaging sensor, a laser-based methane detector, and an in-situ sniffer for flying directly through the methane plume.
Another feature of the HAMR, which its designers have borrowed from the world of manned aviation, is the use of modular line replaceable units (LRU), which can be easily replaced and avoid costly aircraft downtime.
“If something breaks on an airliner, the mechanic can replace a replacement LRU with very minimal downtime. You can get the aircraft back into service and repair the broken LRU at another time, ”said Fredericks. “We built our planes the same way.”
Although AAC currently only exists as a drone manufacturer, the company hopes to offer other drone-related services such as:
“We are initially starting with a very simple business model. We build a widget and then sell it. However, we are considering expanding our business model by offering a digital platform in addition to the physical sale of the vehicle, ”said Fredericks. “At the moment we are selling an aircraft and soon we will be selling an aircraft with a digital platform in addition to the physical platform.”
Jim Magill is a Houston-based writer with nearly a quarter of a century of experience relating to technical and economic developments in the oil and gas industry. After retiring as Senior Editor at S&P Global Platts in December 2019, Jim began writing about new technologies such as artificial intelligence, robots and drones and how they are contributing to our society. In addition to DroneLife, Jim is a contributor to Forbes.com and his work has been published in the Houston Chronicle, US News & World Report, and Unmanned Systems, an Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International publication.