An e-solar-thermal drone performs a marathon test mission

Have you ever dreamed of flying a drone that can stay aloft for longer than the usual 30-35 minute battery charge? Discover the K1000ULE, an electric, solar and thermal drone that has flown for 26 consecutive hours this summer.

Made by the San Francisco Bay Area startup Kraus Hamdani Aerospace, the K1000ULE was designed to run for extended periods of time – really, really extended – drone flights in the service of the armed forces, first responders and disaster control operations. The company claims the ultra-long endurance drone performed a 26-hour sortie in July, but could theoretically have stayed put for days, or even weeks if necessary, thanks to the combination of technologies it contains.

According to specialized defense media reports, this drone marathon flight – which has been verified by an independent observer and gear records – ranks as a world record for nonstop air time for a UAV of this size and weight. What makes the feat even more astonishing is that the K1000ULE carried a full radio payload of video and military specifications.

But the highly adaptable drone amazes in other ways as well.

The plane has a wingspan of 16 feet, but weighs only 15 pounds. It’s fitted with solar panels that continue to charge the batteries that power the craft during the day, meaning it’s able to steal reserve power at night even after the sun goes down. Still, it often doesn’t even need those jerks to keep skyrocketing.

The UAV’s onboard sensors, paired with artificial intelligence, scan the surrounding sky for thermals – those pockets of rising hot air that allow birds to navigate without flapping their wings. Once it finds them, the K1000ULE’s engine shuts down, its blades retract for increased aerodynamic efficiency, and the drone melts like a hawk or eagle in glider mode.

Its avionics and AI respond to changes in stuck thermals to derive maximum flight thrust. It also decides when it’s time to re-ignite the engine and tap into the man-made power sources that company officials say only need about 20% of the flight time. from the plane.

In order to reduce its weight, the machine is designed without landing gear. Instead, it lands by sliding to a stop on replaceable 3D printed pads. Not an approach your mother would approve of with your new tennis shoes or the knees of your jeans, but she didn’t develop them as strategic assets for the military and public safety.

Drones of the same size and weight class are typically capped at between five and eight hours of flight time, well below the 360 ​​hours that Kraus Hamdani Aerospace executives calculate as the maximum of the K1000ULE. For this reason, they believe that the UAV can become invaluable in providing very extensive surveillance or search and rescue operations. Its 24-hour operating capabilities can also allow it to monitor and fight forest fires, which traditional aircraft cannot do at night or in high smoke conditions.

The K1000ULE can also operate much higher than most UAVs in its class – up to 20,000 feet, which puts it above US Army targets and closer to NASA stratospheric altitudes. Partly because of this, Kraus Hamdani Aerospace is testing the craft with radio transmitter and cellphone payloads, which could also make it functional as a low Earth orbit link between satellite communications and receivers. on the ground.

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