After nine years of development, Rafi Yoeli, founder and CEO of Urban Aeronautics says he is confident the Air Mule can achieve operational level within four years. The new design is gaining much interest and support within Israel Defense Forces (IDF), bringing Yoeli closer to achieve his goal. “If funding for the Air Mule is secured, we could have Air Mule ready for fielding by 2015”. Yoeli tells Defense-Update.
Earlier in 2011 the ‘FanCraft’ innovator has resumed flight testing of AirMule the first FanCraft application designed as an unmanned vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) cargo carrier and casualty evacuation platform. The latest design change included the replacement of skids with landing wheels, creating some air ducts on the sides and integration of more sensors, improving the 1.4 ton aircraft response to side-wind gusts.
In recent months Urban’s engineers integrated more sensors into the flight control system, which has become more complex and powerful. The original Global Positioning System/Inertial Navigation System (GPS/INS) was enhanced with more accurate Fiber Optical Gyro (FOG) and Differential GPS (DGPS) to offer higher navigation precision and improved flight control under more difficult flight conditions. The replacement of the skids with landing gears also proved a complex task, as extensive re-training of the flight-by-wire system was required, to train the algorithms to adapt to the wheel’s elasticity and interaction with the surface on landing and takeoff.
In the upcoming weeks Urban Aerospace plans to replace the current Safran Turbomeca Arriel 1 engine with the more powerful Arriel 2, increasing the nominal power output from 730 shp to 940 shp. The new engine will bring the vehicle to the target half-ton useful payload weight class. “With the increased power Air Mule will be capable to take off at sea level with a maximum load of 650 kg, including fuel and useful cargo” Yoeli told Defense-Update. “We expect the vehicle to burn about 150 kg of fuel per hour, cruising at around 100 knots. Therefore, the Air Mule will be able to carry around 500 kg supporting forward units over a 50 km radius.” In fact, the Air Mule is designed to operate from forward bases, where ten vehicles could support 3,000 combat troops in the brigade area, over multiple missions, 24/7.
Urban Aeronautics is investing extensively in the development of the Air Mule air vehicle, following Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) civil air worthiness standards (FAR 27), while the flight control system follows those developed for manned aviation. Yoeli is confident that these investments will pay off in the future, “when the time comes to certify this platform to carry wounded persons or transport passengers and troops, it will be ready.” Yoelli said.
“As the unmanned Air Mule is matured we expect to develop it into a piloted, troop carrier“ Yoeli told Defense-Update, ”It will be able to carry five passengers in addition to the pilot, maintaining the same single engine configuration.” The future manned configuration known as ‘Centaur’ will be utilized for special missions including law enforcement, rescue and evacuation etc. While carrying passengers in full capacity means it will have a limited range, Centaur will offer unique advantages unavailable by any other vehicle. Another manned/unmanned application could be assisting in emergency operations, vehicles regularly used for emergency operations could also be equipped for autonomous and remote operation, fitted with manipulator arms. Such capability could greatly assisted emergency response activities in Japan’s , such as in Japan’s nuclear reactors, Eventually, Urban Aeronautics plans to achieve its original goal, fielding the X-Hawk twin-engine troop carrier originally developed with Bell Helicopters. The twin-engine application will be mandatory for civil night operations over European cities.