A hybrid flight capable of converting between fixed-wing and VTOL flight possesses many of the advantages of both, making them potentially useful for civilians and military purposes.
FREMONT, CA: Hybrid drones that convert from vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) to fixed-wing flight have become extremely popular for both military and civilian applications. However, controlling these aircraft can be challenging considering how their aerodynamics can change dramatically during flight. Scientists are now using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to design remote controls for such hybrid drones automatically. Fixed-wing aircraft can be more efficient than their multi-rotor counterparts, giving them longer ranges, greater endurance, and higher speeds for similar amounts of power. At the same time, multi-rotor aircraft can hover and fly at low speeds and take off and land without runways or complex launch and recovery devices.
A hybrid flight capable of converting between fixed-wing and VTOL flight possesses many of the advantages of both, making them potentially useful for civilians and military purposes. Civilians can fly them from a farm without needing a landing strip, while the military can operate them from jungles, mountains, ship decks, and urban battlefields with the same freedom. A wide variety of these convertible types exist, such as tilt-wings, where propeller-laden wings can rotate between vertical and horizontal positions, and tail-sitters, which take off and land on their tails, tilting horizontally for forward flight.
Convertible aircraft has been a topic of research for the U.S. military since the 1950s. However, manned prototypes often suffered from mechanical complexity and other problems, such as how tilt-wings often stalled as they transitioned from one form of flight to another or how tail-sitters proved awkward for pilots to sit in during take-off and landing. The birth of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has reignited the fire in hybrid aircraft. The UAVs' reduced mechanical complexity and payload constraints compared to that of manned vehicles have made a significant difference. Modern improvements in the efficiency of electric motors and the increasing miniaturization of electronic components have also made the hybrid craft more feasible than ever.
The challenge, however, remains in controlling UAVs. Scientists typically have to develop controllers not just for copter and plane modes, but also for transitioning between these modes, when the aerodynamics are extraordinarily sophisticated given how the rotors and wings are both active. At present, designing controllers for hybrid UAVs requires experts to tweak hundreds of parameters manually.
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