Sky Hopper UAV set for take off in Scotland
UK engineers developing a logistics drone capable of carrying loads up to 100 kg to remote areas will use the skies over the west coast of Scotland to test prototype designs.
Avionic systems for the electrically-powered, tri-fan Sky Hopper are being developed in Hampshire in the south of England, with construction planned to be carried out at Prestwick in Scotland.
With a cargo mass load of 100kg, the UAV is aimed initially at remote and isolated communities, but is expected to be capable of near-urban operations. Commercial plans include unmanned delivery networks that set up local communities as franchisees for aero-parks.
Early prototyping has been privately funded and the founders have invested their own money along with some initial sponsorship funding. A campaign, including further donations, crowdfunding via Indiegogo and a follow-up Enterprise Investment Scheme, is under way.
The team behind Sky Hopper is drawn from a range of disciplines including aeronautical engineers, certification and design specialists, electric machine designers and advanced battery developers.
Project lead Eben Wilson is an economist by training and believes the commercial potential for UAV operations is huge globally. “We’re talking re-supply, infrastructure support and other as yet unanticipated logistical operations,” he said. “We may sound like evangelists, saying that we want the funding to be based on a shared interest in inspired innovation, but we really mean it. In today’s global markets we can stand on the side lines and wait for the big corporates to come along and feed us with their trinkets; allowing us only to become their shopkeepers. But that’s not what we British have been in the past, and certainly in the west of Scotland we feel firmly entrenched in our historic industrial traditions.”
The west of Scotland is expected to offer an ideal territory to test autonomous flight capabilities of demonstrator vehicles, including assessing potential for beyond visual line of sight operation.
“The regulators want a civil UAV industry to develop in the UK,” said Fred Gorrie, technical lead in design certification and regulation, “but they also want safety equal to normal aerospace industry competences. That’s where we want to go too, and we think Scotland gives us the space to do that.”