While most of the world gets a kick out of a drone with the capability of lifting a 4-pound DSLR camera (or a box of drugs), the Israel-based Urban Aeronautics prefers its unmanned aircraft carry payloads weighing around a half-ton. Because of this, the company designed and manufactured what it’s calling the AirMule, a mammoth unmanned aerial vehicle that boasts a ferrying capacity of roughly 1,100 pounds. According to Urban Aeronautics, the AirMule is the perfect companion for emergency responders and military combatants, developed primarily to reach places typical helicopters wouldn’t be able to fly.
A half-ton payload makes the AirMule an absolute beast, no doubt, but it doesn’t come without a few caveats. Right off the bat, Urban Aeronautics says that while the craft can carry roughly 1,100 pounds, it can only do so in a 31-mile radius. Essentially what this means is that if it’s to be used in a combat role, the military will likely travel to a desired outpost location with an AirMule in tow and deploy it near potential mission areas. In line with this example, a military unit would be able to transport roughly 13,200 pounds of supplies inside the radius every 24 hours. Moreover, Urban Aeronautics posits that a 10-12 AirMule “Mobile Supply Unit” would have the ability to supply upwards of 3,000 combatants with supplies while also ferrying wounded soldiers.
Aside from its rather enormous payload capacity, Urban Aeronautics designed the AirMule to feature an array of useful features. For starters, both its internal rotor design and the company’s patented Fancraft tech allow the UAV to fly with unprecedented accuracy and efficiency, even while operating in particularly compact surroundings. Measuring roughly 20 feet long, just over 11 feet wide in the back, and 7 feet in the front, the AirMule’s relative footprint is minimally larger than that of a Humvee. Despite its small size, it boasts the ability to accurately hover in one precise spot even in the event of stormy weather or winds up to 55 mph.
Additionally, Urban Aeronautics included a rocket-deployed parachute system that would launch in the event of an engine or lift rotor malfunction. Once this releases, the AirMule (and its payload) would be safely landed in one piece — hopefully on solid ground. The company also says it’s abided by the FAA’s strictest design requirements for Rotorcraft, resulting in a vehicle that’s not only reliable and efficient, but one of the safest ever built.
To give its AirMule an honest trial, Urban Aeronautics decided to run a series of trials on the drone just before the new year in Tel Aviv. After reporting that 2015 had been a rough year for the organization, it officially announced the AirMule successfully carried out an autonomous, untethered flight at Megiddo Airfield. Though testing didn’t last long, Urban Aeronautics’ success with the trial allowed it to begin planning its next experiment; to see how the AirMule fares navigating “beyond the line of sight” through a forested area. It’s unknown when exactly the company intends to conduct the next test though it did say 2016 should be the year it will “finally be able to demonstrate some of AirMule’s unique capabilities.”
As work progresses, Urban Aeronautics promises to publish routine updates on the project via its website. Though no exact timeframe was given for when it expects to officially put the drone into service, continued successful testing does bode well for the AirMule seeing a battlefield in the near future.