10 November 2015
Top Engineering Group is showcasing its innovative Falcon-V UAS at the IMPACT centre in Bangkok, Thailand during Defense & Security 2015. (photo : Top Engineering)
A Thai company, Top Engineering Group was founded in 2013 according to Anton Verloop, the company's technical director who has a background in the telecommunications industry. Speaking to MT, Verloop indicated that the Falcon-V is aimed at a requirement by the Royal Thai Navy and that for this purpose his company will work together with DTI. The production model of the new UAV first flew in October 2015 and has since been used to demonstrate its capabilities to Thailand's irrigation department amongst others.
Taking the system from the design phase to production took about a year, Verloop said who went on to say that he expects Top Engineering Group will be allowed to demonstrate the system on board a Thai navy AOR within three to four months. The production version which has a MTOW of 22kg and features a wingspan of 3 metres was preceded by a 2 meter prototype version while a company brochure also mentions a previous 1 meter prototype. With the system having a unique fixed wing VTOL configuration, Verloop's biggest challenge has been to "manage the air vehicle's transition from vertical take-off to forward flight and back to vertical landing". In order to achieve this, Falcon-V's four rotorblades continue to run until the air vehicle's stall speed, which is around 45 km/h, is exceeded by twenty percent. From then on the aircraft relies on a push propellor that is being driven by the air vehicle's engine in order to stay airborne. When in forward flight, the rotor blades cause only minimal drag according to Verloop.
Basically, a quadcopter combined with a fixed wing design, the system's rotorblades are mounted on two booms which can be detached from the wings. This allows the system to be used as a traditional fixed wing UAV that can operate from a landing strip too. In addition, the aircraft's wingspan can be extended by integrating longer outer wing panels, hereby increasing Falcon-V's wingspan to 4.5 metres. As a consequence, the aircraft's tail section will have to be extended too. This extension is enabled by the vehicle's two tailbooms which are of a telescopic design. According to Verloop, a major benefit of this fixed wing VTOL design is the fact that unlike traditional fixed wing UAS, the Falcon-V can operate at much lower speeds.
On top of this, it can take off from both runways and from confined areas in the jungle or from a ship's deck while still offering a respectable combination of payload, endurance and speed due to its fixed wing features. The former is given as 5 kg while the air vehicle's endurance is two hours when using Li-Ion batteries, or 3 to 4 hours when using hydrogen fuel cell technology. For this, Top Engineering Group has selected the H-Series Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) fuel cell technology from Thai company Horizon Energy Creation. When fitted with a gasoline engine, Falcon-V's maximum flight time is five hours. Camera options include a digital still camera, a video camera or an IR camera. Controllable up to a range of 50km using the system's datalinks, Falcon-V is also capable of flying autonomously up to a range of 200km following predetermined waypoints. Depending on the aircraft's wingspan, the maximum altitude at which the Falcon-V can operate is either 3,000 or 5,000 metres. Maximum speed is given as 130km/h, or 110km/h for the 4.5 meter wingspan version.