Today’s drones, regardless of their applications, are not quite groundbreaking as long as they are limited by battery life (and therefore, range) and if they are still propelled by rotors. It is like a person, dressed up in different costumes or people doing different jobs. Basically, they change in form, but not in substance. The Phoenix UAV you see here, however, is very different.
It is blimp, or airship if you will, that sucks in air to make itself move forward. This propulsion, called “variable-buoyancy propulsion system,” draws air into an inflatable bag inside the vehicle. With air inside, Phoenix becomes heavier and loses altitude, and it is at this time, the solar covered wings (and those in the aft) will steer it forward.
Obviously, it is going to end up on the ground if it continues to keep the air within and so, to keep up (in the air), it will purge the air to gain altitude again while aided by a supply of helium or hydrogen. Basically, this unmanned air vehicle will keep cycling through the draw air, purge air process to move forward and to stay aloft.
Since no fuel is required and it has solar panels to help fill the battery system, it could theoretically stay in the sky indefinitely. The aircraft simplicity makes it a low cost floating node which the military could leverage on as sensor I the sky, communications node, and a satellite alternative to provide line-of-sight secure communications. In other words, it can be the eye in the sky to give strategists a birds eye view of the battlefield.
The Phoenix is very much like the radar-equipped aerostat, except that it is capable of controlled flight. Officially referred to as Phoenix Unmanned Aerial Vehicle for Satellite Applications, this lighter-than-air UAV is a UK-based project lead by a consortium of UK universities, businesses, and innovations centers including CPI, which has been in development for three years now.
You can learn more about Phoenix UAV over at its official website HERE. In the meantime, here’s a video of the UAV.
Images: Phoenix UAV.
Source: Popular Mechanics.