3D Robotics

The First RC-Accessible VTOL Drone Runs APM

On the heels of the Arcturus JUMP flight, thought it might be nice to announce that Adam Sloan and John Hampton, the two-man crew that is BirdsEyeView Aerobotics, have just developed the first RC-accessible VTOL drone, the FireFly6—and it runs on APM.

For the uninitiated, a VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Land) is a fixed-wing aircraft outfitted with propellers that can take off and hover like a copter, but can also shift into a plane’s forward flight mode. VTOLs have unique advantages over planes and copters alone. For one, it’s hard to find big fields to launch and land a plane, and in many parts of the world, such as rainforests, cities, or islands, it’s especially difficult. On the other side, multicopters can only fly for a short time, so if you’re making a delivery or want to cover a large area, you need the flight time and forward speed that a plane provides.

VTOLs have a reputation for being difficult to develop and manage. For one, there's the complicated mechanics—fully actuated roller discs, variable pitch, with lots of moving parts; because it's all so unreliable, VTOL hasn't done well in manned development. However, Sloan says that the recent explosion of multi-copters has finally brought accessible technology to VTOL and made it more viable: fixed-pitch, electric motors, and not as many things (or people!) to break.

Sloan says their craft is unique in a couple ways. The form factor is a flying wing with the Y6 propeller configuration built in. Rotating propellers keep the craft's cross-section in the wind to a minimum—unlike the "tail-sitter" form, a vertical wing that then flips into forward flight, and which Sloan calls "basically a flag in the wind." Also, their "bridge" electronics allow you to plug in the required hover controller and optionally a forward flight controller. The bridge coordinates between the two, operating a chain drive transition between forward and hover. 

And his business partner John Hampton points out their model is redundant: if something goes awry in forward flight, it flips into hover mode and corrects itself.

As for the choice of APM, Sloan says, “I’ve flown a lot of controllers, and APM is easily the best for forward flight.” And true to APM’s roots, Sloan wants to keep his platform open. “We’d like to see the technology trickle down to everyday users.”

To learn more about the FireFly6, click here.

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