Hello everyone! 

For the past few months we were looking for a more convenient way to launch our PD-1 fixed-wing UAV (MTOW is 40 kg). Since runway takeoff and landing requires pretty serious and long training for the operator and any pneumatic launchers that will work with our UAV are expensive (from $30000 USD (actually we couldn't find anything less than $50k)) we decided to look for alternatives. Car top launch was one of those alternatives. We quickly developed a test unit and ran a few tests. So far we already have some statistics and pretty sure that it can be a good alternative to expensive pneumatic launchers in some civil applications with tight budget. Let me know your opinion on this. Do you think such way to launch a UAV could be an option? 

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Comment by Adam Kroll on January 22, 2017 at 3:48am

Thats a really good development.  The release mechanism looks quite simple, could you elaborate on how it works?  Are you using an ardupilot  autopilot? Any problems so far with parachute landings? 

Comment by Olivier on January 22, 2017 at 1:51pm

Looks great Jacob, well done!. Car top launches can definitely   be a good  alternative to catapults. It's been used in a number of situations, for instance here with an Aerosonde in Antarctica by a research team from the University of Colorado and CIRES. (picture below from John Cassano)

Looks like you've been using Ardupilot with the PD-1 (Saw your  "People's Drone PD 1 with gimbal test" video on YT,  also your groundstation with stab switch on UKRSPECSYSTEMS site).  So you could also easily go VTOL with a quadplane architecture as an alternative, with some flight time  reduction.

Congrats btw on your products, very professional and all look amazing good!


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Comment by Dwgsparky on January 22, 2017 at 5:49pm

We have been building Catapults at www,Air-Vision-Air.com for a long time now and your approach is good, 

Catapults can work very well when they are designed correctly for the aircraft, 

The big problem with larger aircraft is to get the aircraft to flying speed in the (relativity) short length of the catapult ramp without having to apply so much force that the aircraft is destroyed. 8-10G is common. 

For aircraft over approx 25Kg then an electric version works much better as you can control the speed  (and so the thrust ) much more progressively and so cause less damage.

I like your airbag for landing,great idea.  

Comment by Jacob Cereteli on January 23, 2017 at 5:37am

Hello everyone. Thanks for commenting. We do use Pixhawk for PD-1, however other autopilot option are also available. Reason for that is that quite often budget for such projects is very tight. Pixhawk work really great and we are currently working on fully automatic launch from car. Right now it is sort of assisted version. 

Parachute landing works well. We have about ten landings with this particular parachute/landing bag (previously we were testing other shape of the parachute) and so far everything is good. Pixhawk allows to use all those amazing features like catapult/car top launch and parachute landing. As well as, for example, we can automatically start/restart the engine during the flight with on-board starter/generator. We will be posting more videos and materials soon. 

Comment by Olivier on January 23, 2017 at 11:21am

Very cool!  Keep  the videos coming!  ;)

Comment by Sam Spade on January 24, 2017 at 2:22am
Was caught by your comment that a road take-off takes considerable training. Not being very knowledgeable in drones, I was rather surprised by that. Don't they make some sort of laser beacon which can be set on the roadway to guide the aircraft for an automatic take-off?

(Align the beam with the road, use rear-facing sensors in the wing-tips to keep the drone within the beam until enough altitude is reached.)

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Comment by Dwgsparky on January 24, 2017 at 8:13am

road takeoffs are tricky because you usually have to set up and operate with other mobile vehicles and the inherent obstacles at the roadside such as telephone poles, trees and overhead wires, We solved this problem by using a truck mounted catapult to get accurately directed launches in a short time. We can simply stop at a convenient place, attach the aircraft to the prepared catapult and pull the release, if we preload the catapult we dont even need to get out of the truck!. set up time can be less than 30seconds. this is not suitable for the aircraft described in this post, its too heavy to use a short catapult. 

Comment by Jacob Cereteli on January 24, 2017 at 8:31am

Sam, there is an automatic take off feature. It doesn't need anything. Operator still has to control anything and react to any situation changes, but in most cases UAV will take off with out operator touching the sticks. Landing on the other hand is a bit more complicated. You can check our YT video, especially PD-1 playlist, to see how it usually goes. 

Comment by jackson on January 24, 2017 at 9:22am
Comment by Sam Spade on January 24, 2017 at 11:24am
Dwgsparky: Right, but all those problems apply to the kind of vehicle take-off described in this article, don't they? Cross-winds could still blow the drone into a pole before it got height enough after release, and overhead wires would still be a problem, right?

Jacob Cereteli: If the operator still has to control everything, how can you call that automatic? I assumed there was some simple non-alignments fan beam system, battery-operated, that can be set behind the drone on a section of road without overhead wires. Then the drone would sense the laser from behind and adjust for cross-winds, gusts, etc until it got above the height of the fan which would, presumably, be above the height of any lateral obstructions. Such a thing doesn't exist?

As you point out, landing is hard in any case, but, with a fan laser-aligment 'puck' sitting in the middle of the road, all the drone would have to do is us GPS to acquire the end of the fan at altitude and then use it to dead-stick in until contact is made with the road.

This is, after all, what ILS does over a longer range, right?
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