Will this hydraulically powered cargo drone from Flowcopter replace helicopters?

The Scottish company Flowcopter has developed a hydraulically powered cargo drone that can stay in the air for up to 6 hours at a time.

In that time, the drone could cover a distance of approximately 560 miles. The required energy is generated by a fuel engine.

What is special about the cargo drone is that the propellers are not driven electrically, but hydraulically. Flowcopter developed a special displacement pump for the control.

Hydraulically powered cargo drone from Flowcopter

Flowcopter specializes in industrial heavy-lift drones. The company’s slogan is “flying hours, not minutes”. The goal is to develop drones that can make helicopters obsolete.

Think of freight transport and conducting surveys and rescue missions. This means that the drone must be able to fly in extreme weather conditions. The drone must also be able to stay in the air for hours on end.

To achieve this, the company is investing in unique drive technology. Instead of electric motors, the prototype cargo drone is powered by Hydro Leduc hydraulic motors.

These motors are relatively light, cheap, and very robust. Each motor weighs 5.5 kg and can supply 96 kW of continuous power to the propeller. The motors are fully sealed and suitable for offshore applications.

Will This Hydraulically Powered Cargo Drone From Flowcopter Replace Helicopters?
A schematic representation of the hydraulic drone. Source: Flowcopter

Hydraulic drive

The hydraulic motors are driven by a self-developed digital displacement pump. This can very quickly regulate the hydraulic flows to the plunger motors and thus vary the rotation speed, which is essential for a stable flight of a multicopter. The pump is digitally controlled by the flight controller.

The required energy is supplied by a Rotax fuel engine that is certified for aviation. The service ceiling of the engine is 7,000 meters above sea level.

The service interval is 1,200 operating hours. According to Flowcopter, the fuel engine delivers 20 times as much energy per kg of fuel as the most modern batteries at the moment.

Will This Hydraulically Powered Cargo Drone From Flowcopter Replace Helicopters?
The digital displacement pump. Source: Flowcopter

Long flight time, long-range

Flowcopter recognizes that the weight of the hydraulic motors, digital displacement pump, fuel motor and fuel tanks can be significant. However, compared to the weight of lithium batteries and the limited range of electric drones, the hydraulic drone is a promising design.

The cargo drone should eventually be able to fly for 6 hours straight. In that time, the drone can cover about 900 km or 560 miles.

During shorter flights, the drone can carry up to 150 kg of useful payload.

Test flight with prototype

The video below shows a test flight with a prototype of the drone, consisting of a welded frame.

Will This Hydraulically Powered Cargo Drone From Flowcopter Replace Helicopters? 1

Will cargo drones like this one from Flowcopter replace other means of delivering products? Let us know what you think in the comments below. We are curious to hear your thoughts.

This article first appeared on Dronewatch and is written by Wiebe de Jager who is also a DroneXL contributor.

Photos courtesy of Flowcopter.

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Wiebe de Jager

Wiebe de Jager (@wdejager) is the founder of Dronewatch and author of several bestselling books about drone photography. Wiebe is a certified drone pilot and has a full ROC license.

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