Launching and landing a drone on a moving ship in the open sea is a perilous exercise, especially when the drone is autonomous. The aircraft must anticipate the trajectories and movements of the ship, as well as the potential effects of strong winds, in order to compensate and land smoothly. Pterodynamics, the manufacturer, successfully tested this capability with its Transwing X-P4 drone. It has recently undergone trials at sea with the US Navy on the USNS Burlington, near the coast of Florida, USA. The drone managed to perform nine autonomous flights with corresponding takeoff and landing phases on the ship’s platform. Prior to these sea trials, various tests were conducted, including maneuvers in strong winds, notably on a moving truck.
The device is of the eVTOL type, but its architecture differs significantly from what is observed in other aircraft. The rear features a V-shaped empennage, and when the two wings are deployed, it transforms into a real airplane with four engines. To switch to takeoff-landing mode, thanks to a supporting beam, the two wings pivot and fold backward to align with the fuselage. The engines are then pointed upwards, and the end of their fairing serves as landing gear.
Other Larger Drones Planned
In the end, the Transwing X-P4 drone is compact on the ground but has a significant wingspan during cruise. In other words, it combines advantages without the usual drawbacks of VTOL. Its good lift provides it with substantial autonomy, a rare feature. Regarding its specifications, the wingspan of the device is four meters, and it can carry a payload of nearly seven kilograms. Its maximum weight is 38 kilograms, and its range covers 111 kilometers, a distance it can cover in one hour. Its top speed is 185 km/h.
However, Pterodynamics does not intend to stop at the X-P4. The manufacturer envisions a larger XP-5 with a wingspan of 6.7 meters, capable of carrying a payload of 23 kilograms over a distance of 925 kilometers. To achieve such autonomy, the company mentions a hybrid power system. Even larger, the X-P6 will have a wingspan of 9.1 meters, carrying up to 100 kilograms of payload with a range of 1,575 kilometers. For the US Navy, this type of drone could replace a helicopter in logistical operations to deliver cargo to a ship at sea. The French Navy is also testing drones capable of performing similar operations, but the prototype that executed these maneuvers on a ship in rough seas is based on a helicopter platform.