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Case Study #5: 'Project CONDOR' Heavy-lift eVTOL Cargo Drone

About CONDOR

'Project CONDOR' is the codename for an eVTOL quadcopter cargo drone concept proposed to the Australian Army as a future cargo-carrying platform, able to transport 120-150kg of materiel from a supply base to a forward operational position; with an option for aerial evac of a single injured person from that forward position to a field triage or hospital location.

The quadcopter format (versus a tilt-rotor quadplane) was proposed as it offered operational advantages, including being able to operate from a wider range of take-off and landing sites, including restricted spaces in urban environments such as narrow roads.

It was funded via a Defence Innovation Hub research grant, but involved the exploration of non-military (emergency response and humanitarian aid) as well as military applications.

CONDOR therefore fits firmly in the sphere of 'deeptech', that is, technology that requires substantial scientific advances and engineering innovation covering multiple engineering disciplines.

Amatek was successful in securing funding after demonstrating a unique mix of engineering and design skills very few consultancies in Australia can muster.


Issues

With most of the key enabling technologies not commercially available, a number of major and highly complex issues needed to be resolved, including:

  • Identifying battery and PEM-FC (hydrogen fuel cells) able to deliver the power required to achieve 120 minutes of flight for an airframe weighing as mush as 250kg, but having no lifting surfaces
  • Reviewing COTS hydrogen (PEM) fuel cell technologies and devising ways of achieving 1kW/kg output
  • Proposing a solution to achieve autonomnous control, without a remote pilot in the loop, and in the absence of GPS and any external navigational aids
  • Developing electric propulsion solutions that could deliver 300-360kg of total thrust, but in ducted assemblages of less than 1 metre in diameter
  • Designing a modular airframe that would accept multiple electronics packages, as well as could be shipped in a 'rapid assembly' format

  • Outcomes

    While many details of the project are commercially sensitive, some of the notable outcomes achieved include the following:

  • Ducted coaxial fan propulsion modules
  • We devised and tested a novel ducted propulsion unit comprised of two counter-rotating high-blade-count propellers shown to deliver 100kg of thrust each at cruising speeds, and up to 160kg each in emergency sprints or climbs - all from a low profile ducted assemblage of less than 1 meter in diameter.

  • Electric Drive
  • In partnership with an Australian battery startup, we explored hybrid battery concepts comprised of a mix of high energy density and high power density battery types (including state of the art Li-S and LOBs) to optimise performance.

    We also conceived of new electric motor technologies, including a hydrid axial+radial design - to achieve far greater thrust in a smaller footprint than had been demonstrated by other developers.

  • 'Level 5' autonomous navigation and control
  • In partership with a leading Australian university, we explored a novel hybrid system that lowered costs but offered amazing developmental flexibility to achieve (initially) Level 4 autonomy and, ultimately, Level 5 'full autonomous control'.


    Specifications

  • Airframe

    Modular carbon composite airframe & aerodynamic body panels.

    Modular electronic and imaging subsystems for rapid role reconfigration.

    Folding propulsion nacelles for storage and relocation.

  • Flight Duration
  • Target range: 2 hours/100kms

  • Air Speed
  • Cruise: 50kph (estimated)

    Sprint: 80kph (estimated)


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