Hand Launched and Small VTOL UAV Selection Guide

By Chris Mailey posted 15-01-2014 16:06

  

We get a lot of calls from companies and groups looking to purchase a small UAS for various purposes. Many of these groups know very little about UAS so our discussions focus on education and better understanding and articulating their needs so they can find a matching system.

Using data from the robotics directory, we’ve compiled a list of statistics and graphs of hand launched and small VTOL UAS to give prospective users an idea of the state of practice of these systems. For the world’s largest list of all UAS including searchable details on specific systems to help with your selection we recommend you subscribe to the robotics directory.

Have a robot you think should be in the directory or want to see your robot’s listing? Send us a link to the platform from your company email and we will make sure the platform is in the system and send you what we have.

Before purchasing any system, you should look into local regulations on UAS use as they vary country to country and are fairly fluid.

Major Tradeoffs

Cost – Unfortunately manufacturers do not often publish system costs so we do not include that data in the directory and you will have to reach out to individual companies

Personnel – How many are needed onsite to fly? What training do they need?

Physical Footprint – Does it need to fit in a trunk? Suitcase? Backpack?

Takeoff and landing – Does it need to take off and land vertically (like a helicopter)?

Range – Does it need to go beyond the line of site of the operator? This may change the communications equipment, intelligence needed in platform, operator training, and is a key factor in many local regulations.

Weather – What type of wind, rain, etc. must the platform operate in? Most platforms have similar characteristics here, but expectations for performance in various environments must be understood.

Day/Night Operations – Does your camera or other sensor need to work at night? This can greatly increase cost.

Defining “Small” – We do not want this guide to be about defining exactly what a small UAV is and is not. So we chose 100 lbs for Maximum Gross Take Off Weight (MGTOW) as an upper limit, knowing that this is well heavier than what most people are interested in. Data with MGTOW are shown in a log scale so as to maximize detail on lighter platforms while showing a large data set.

Platform Characteristics

The data below includes 385 UAVs that are less than 100 lbs and either hand launched or VTOL. Not all platforms in the data set are currently being manufactured. Not every platform has data on every variable so each graph below pulls from a subset of the 385 platforms.

 

Notes on MGTOW vs Payload Weight:

  • Expect total weight to be 2 to 5 times greater than payload weight.
  • High performance, lightweight payloads tend to cost more.
  • Gimbals (pan and tilt on camera) increases weight and cost.
  • 224 platforms displayed: 166 VTOL, 58 hand launched.
  • Graph depicted log-log to give greater emphasis to <10 lb platforms.
  • MGTOW is the maximum the platform can weigh to safely take off and operate.

 

 

Notes on MGTOW vs Endurance:

  • A large number of platforms can fly 30-60 minutes – the majority of platforms in this endurance range and in the small hand launch/VTOL subclass are powered by electric motors.
  • The upper MGTOW range of platforms analyzed in this data set are more likely to utilize combustion or jet engines which offer extended endurance and payload capacity.
  • Most platforms fly 1 hours or less.
  • 311 platforms total: 215 VTOL, 74 hand launched. (first MGTOW v Endurance figure)
  • 236 platforms total: 177 electric, 59 combustion. (second MGTOW v Endurance figure)
  • Two platforms removed to make graph easier to read, both with endurance >10hrs.

     

     

     

    Notes on MGTOW vs Range:

  • A large number of platforms have a range of at least 5 miles.
  • Two platforms removed to make graph easier to read, both with weight <0.1.
  • 229 platforms total: 153 VTOL, 75 hand launched.

     

     

     

     

    Notes on MGTOW vs Width:

  • Width increases approximately linearly with MGTOW.
  • Many platforms have folding wings or blades that make their storage footprint smaller.
  • For fixed wing aircraft, width equals wingspan. For helicopters width generally equals the width of the main blade (diameter, not radius).
  • 302 platforms total: 207 VTOL, 95 hand launched.

     

    Notes on Width vs Endurance:

  • A vast majority of hand launched platforms are small but have good endurance.
  • Many platforms have folding wings or blades that make their storage footprint smaller.
  • For fixed wing aircraft, width equals wingspan. For helicopters width generally equals the width of the main blade (diameter, not radius).
  • One platform with 40 hr endurance (9.84ft wide) removed to better show other data.
  • 302 platforms total: 207 VTOL, 95 hand launched.

Am I Buying a UAV or a UAS?

When purchasing a platform, make sure to know the total cost of operating the system. The cost of the platform (the ‘vehicle’) may only a fraction of the total cost (the ‘system’, including communications, maintenance, other equipment).

Further Help

We hope this helps you in understanding the parameters of a UAV you may be interested in.

Are we missing any information? Have any further questions? Email us (knowledge@auvsi.org). 

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