Design Excellence Award

VTOL UAV – ‘Kestrel’

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Design Excellence Award, Group Design Project
Design and prototyping of a low-cost fixed-wing Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) UAV for search and rescue operations
Group Members
Will Ellis, James Hayward, Ben Hoddy, Gjermund Holm, Justin Horne

Professor James Scanlan, Professor Keith Towell

Forsvarets forskningsinstitutt

Radio signals are used in search and rescue operations to locate targets. By elevating sensors using a UAV the target detection range increases significantly. Fixed-wing aircraft have good flight endurance and multirotor UAV´s offer versatility due to their VTOL capability. In order to obtain the required versatility and endurance for search and rescue, a fixed-wing VTOL UAV solution was chosen. Although the VTOL system has to be electrical, a wet fuel engine was used to power fixed-wing flight. This hybrid configuration therefore enables both versatility and endurance. Whilst other VTOL UAV configurations could be lighter and more elegant, the chosen configuration simplifies the design, improves reliability, reduces the cost, and eases manufacture. Overall the project realises a greater design value.

Low cost is an essential factor in mitigating damage or loss of the UAV during a high-risk search and rescue operation. Additive manufacture allows for complex components to be accurately produced as required, at relatively short notice. By 3D printing key parts of the UAV in Nylon 12, the UAV can be easily assembled or disassembled in the field due to its modularity. An additional benefit of modular design is increased versatility to allow for differing operating conditions; for example, attaching wings with greater surface area for low speed flight or removal of the landing gear for improved endurace.

The design process was split into two parts which ran in parallel throughout the project; the control systems and the airframe. The control systems team designed and developed the flight control and electrical systems for each design iteration and were responsible for the test program throughout the duration of the project. Design of the airframe required consideration of the aerodynamics and the structural integrity, to ensure desirable flight characteristics. This involved the sizing and design of the lifting surfaces, investigating different power plants, and designing an efficient and functional fuselage.

The culmination of this design process was the manufacture of a successful VTOL and fixed-wing hybrid UAV capable of up to 3 hours of autonomous flight.

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