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All-Electric Drone Travels 50 Miles Across the Black Rock Desert Without Recharging

BY Isabella Lee
28 August 2019

An all-electric drone made a mighty trek across Black Rock Desert on a single battery charge in an aviation first this month.

Aerospace US 1

Impossible Aerospace announced that its US-1 “flying battery” quadcopter became the first aircraft of its kind to cross the northern Nevada desert without recharging in repeated 72-minute flights across the playa on August 6, 2019.

US-1’s Long-Range Flight Across the Desert

This flight marked yet another public demonstration for the US-1, first unveiled at Interdrone 2018. The aircraft used for the flight was an unmodified production US-1, carrying with it both a FLIR Duo Pro R camera and HD video transmitter.

With and against the prevailing winds, the US-1 flew distances of 29 and 21 miles respectively. While many electric aircraft have flown similar distances, this one differs in that it uses propellers instead of wings to fight gravity, which requires more energy per mile but allows the aircraft to hover in place.

The flight was routed to avoided restricted wilderness areas and preparations for the annual Burning Man celebration to avoid operating over people.

Black_Rock_Desert

The flight was conducted under 14 CFR 107.25, with the pilot operating as a passenger of a moving vehicle over a sparsely populated area maintaining visual line of sight to the aircraft.

Public Safety Relies on US-1’s Long Battery Life for Drone Ops

We’ve talked about the impressive US-1 here before when it assisted California police in a standoff. The drone supported the police and SWAT team in a perimeter scan and allowed them to gain an advantageous perspective of the scene.

Public safety officials continue to put the US-1 to use. On August 5th, the city of San Pablo, California announced it would be purchasing three US-1 aircraft for use by its police department, and on August 13, gas detection company SeekOps announced it would integrate with US-1.

The US-1 is able to obtain such long flight times (a record-breaking 90 minutes), thanks to its unique design. It earned the name of “flying battery” because instead of using a separate battery pack, the US-1 contains individual batteries throughout its body. Distributing the batteries this way gives the US-1 a much longer battery life and flight time than other drones of comparable size and weight.

us-1-drone

The US-1 is the first major breakthrough in drone performance since the introduction of the quadcopter. More importantly, is the first battery-electric aircraft to rival the performance of a conventionally powered system.

—Spencer Gore, CEO, Impossible Aerospace

Most drones run on LiPo batteries and can only sustain about 10-25 minutes of flight time—even in the top professional drones on the market we typically only see a maximum battery life of about 30 minutes.

Electric UAVs to Carry People, Goods Around the World

Impossible Aerospace envisions much more than lengthy trips across the desert for its electric aircraft. In fact, based on a statement from the company’s CEO, they’re hoping to develop an electric passenger drone as well.

“The ultimate vision of Impossible Aerospace is to build long-range electric aircraft that carry goods and people around the world, emissions free,” said Gore. “But electrification changes literally everything about an aircraft, and many of these changes will take years to prove safe enough for passenger transport.”

Passenger drones aren’t likely to take to the skies very soon, but multiple companies have already started developing the technology.

Earlier this year, Bell Nexus announced its “air taxi” concept—a full-scale vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) passenger drone powered by a hybrid-electric propulsion system—and revealed a prototype at CES 2019. The drone uses six tilting ducted fans to lift the vehicle vertically off the ground.

In the not-too-distant future, commuters may be able to request one of these air taxis using popular ride-sharing apps. Uber plans to operate a network through which electric VTOL vehicles in numerous cities worldwide will provide transportation and delivery logistics services. Bell Nexus was one of the first to collaborate with Uber when they first announced the plans in 2017.

Bell Nexus

Other companies working to make passenger drones a reality include Boeing, AirBus, Kitty Hawk, and Ehang to name a few. Conceptual designs and impressive prototypes have already surfaced from these companies. Sill, we’re excited to see what comes next from Impossible Aerospace as they work towards developing a fully electric VTOL passenger drone themselves.

Share your thoughts on electric UAVs in this thread on our community forum.

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