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Aerovel, a company founded by designers of the Aerosonde and ScanEagle UAVs, has flown the prototype of its Flexrotor vertical take-off and landing small unmanned aircraft. The prototype, called Pandora, made its first hover flight on Tuesday (Sep. 7).Aerovel president Tad McGeer, who led development of the ScanEagle while at Insitu, says he doesn't have any good images of the first flight because the prototype of the tailsitting Flexrotor is fitted with an ungainly temporary landing gear. So all we have is the image from the unveiling in March.Photo: AerovelWith a 3m wing span and 19.2kg gross weight, the Flexrotor is designed to take off vertically, transition to wingborne flight, cruise for 40 hours, dash at speeds up to 79kt, then land vertically. Aerovel says the large, geared-down rotor/propeller provides low disc loading in helicopter mode and reasonable propulsive efficiency in aeroplane mode, giving the Flexrotor its long range and endurance. Control in vertical flight is through a combination of rotor cyclic and wingtip thrusters, with conventional surfaces for wingborne control.The prototype will begin transitions between thrust- and wingborne flight later this year, Aerovel says, with the production Flexrotor targeted for fielding in 2012. The system will include a base station for automatic retrieval, refueling and launch, the company says.
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