Call it the best of both worlds: The Hybrid Quadcopter UAV has the extended air endurance of a Predator but can take off like helicopter from the back of a frigate. No wonder the U.S. Navy has expressed interest in this unmanned helicopter–airplane hybrid that Latitude Engineering, a small drone company from Tucson, Ariz., is showcasing this week at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) conference in Washington, D.C.
Courtesy of Latitude
Weighing in at 25 pounds, the Hybrid Quadcopter UAV looks like a typical twin-boom drone but with four helicopter blades. It’s a configuration sparked by a wild brainstorming session involving company founder Jason Douglas, Latitude design engineer Bayani Birkinbine says.
“In mid-2011, Jason and our aerospace engineer Justin Armer tossed around the idea ‘What if we were to combine a quadcopter with a regular fixed-wing aircraft?’ and then they literally put together a prototype within a day and tested it manually with two RC boxes,” he says.
The first prototypes were RC toys, but the platforms quickly grew in size and sophistication. As the aircraft scaled up, Latitude had how to figure out how to integrate an autopilot with the Hybrid Quadcopter UAV—no mean feat given the not-quite-a-helo, not-quite-an-airplane nature of the aircraft. “There are autopilots with fixed-wing control laws, and there are autopilots with helicopter control laws, so we had to go into the firmware and do a lot of custom engineering,” Birkinbine says.