Dubbed a “Swiss Army Knife” of small unmanned aircraft by the Swiss-based eVTOL startup Dufour Aerospace, the tilt-wing Aero2 drone was initially meant to be a technology demonstrator, but its performance in flight testing has led the company to bring the design to market.
According to Dufour, Aero2 can carry a payload of up to 40 kilograms (88 pounds), and has a maximum take-off weight of 150 kg (330 lb). The aircraft can travel at 170 kilometers an hour (92 knots) in cruise speed, with a maximum flight time of three hours using a hybrid electric propulsion system, or one hour using pure electric.
Featuring four propellers on the tilting wing and two tail fans, Aero2’s small design allows it to take off and land on tight spots, using as little space as a conventional unmanned aerial vehicle, the company claims.
“This innovative small unmanned aircraft will greatly support our customers in their activities,” said Thomas Pfammatter, co-founder and CEO of Dufour Aerospace, in a press release. “With its quickly exchangeable nose cone, it is the perfect tool to carry different customer payloads, be it in logistics, topographical surveys, mapping, measurements, or for public safety applications.”
Slated to begin commercial production in 2023, Aero2 is the company’s first commercially available product in its tilt-wing eVTOL family. Its developers claim the aircraft’s redundant features, including its motors/propellers, flight control unit, and rudders, will allow it to meet strict safety requirements. It is designed to fully comply with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency’s (EASA) special condition for light unmanned aerial systems.
Dufour first successfully flew a tilt-wing technology demonstrator in 2020, which showed the aircraft’s aerodynamic performance and versatility, said Jasmine Kent, co-founder and chief technology officer of Dufour. Since then, the Swiss-based company has continued developing tilt-wing unmanned eVTOL aircraft.
The first model in the Aero series, the electric fixed-wing Aero1, was built in 2016 and has logged more than 80 hours of test flights. Dufour said it will use an upgraded version of the Aero1 as a flying testbed for technology that will be deployed in Aero2 and Aero3, including flight computers, battery packs, and telemetry systems in real flight conditions.
“Reactions from observers of the current [Aero2] prototype are encouraging,” Kent said. “In a series of prototypes, we will continue to add and certify more features, such as the hybrid propulsion module, de-icing capabilities, and a usage and health monitoring system.”
The company previously shared the new design and specs for its piloted Aero3 aircraft. Dufour claims Aero3 will be able to carry out the duties of today’s light single and twin-engine helicopters while operating at lower costs and higher speeds.
A Dufour representative previously said the company expects to build its first full-scale prototype next year, with flight testing slated toward the end of 2022. The company is working toward certification of Aero3 by the end of 2025.