Ukrainian-based aerospace company Skyeton has developed a new family of surveillance unmanned aircraft called the Raybird 3 and the Defence Blog decided to meet with the founder and current CEO of the company to chat about a new drone that can be flown for more than 24 hours depending on mission requirements.
The Defence Blog: Skyeton company developed a unique Raybird 3 small unmanned aerial system capable of conducting sorties lasting up to 24 hours long. Could you, please, speak a bit more about the Raybird 3 system?
Alex Stepura: This is an unmanned areal system, designed to patrol vast territories, like thousands sq km and more – that is why we achieved the endurance of round-a clock flight. So, most of our clients utilise RB3 for boarder control, fighting with wildfires, poaching, illegal fishing etc. In this case we use video-gimbals with day and night cameras that are installed into the flying vehicle. For mapping we apply different photo cameras. Datalink transmits video on-line from board to ground control station in HD format on 100-120 km distance – the distance depends on the weather.
RB3 belongs to small class – means the weight of the flying vehicle is always less then 25 kg.
In this class our system is lightest among our direct competitors ( INSITU, UAV factory, Bluebird, Tekever) – the whole system with 3 aerial vehicles, catapult, two ground control stations, antennas etc, being packed in boxes weighs less then 200 kg. For example INSITU’s catapult weighs 2 tons.
— Skyeton (@skyeton_inc) March 26, 2020
Preparation for flight requires no tools, needs only 15 min and one person is able to deploy the system and launch it.
Most of subsystems, except datalink, engine, and payloads, we apply in RB3, we designed in-house: Flying Vehicle, autopilot, ground control station (GCS), telemetry and control link, tracking antenna and sectoral antenna for both of links, etc. This allows us to customise system very fast. This is the key point – we provide turn-key solution for customer.
We apply fuel 4 stroke engines for long endurance flights and electric engines for 3-4 hours flights. Fuel tank is for 9 Litres and it’s enough to fly for more then 30 hours because of less then 300 gr in hour consumption.
Many components like servo machines, some encores, airplane plumage, etc are duplicated in order to provide high level of resilience while flying.
There are on-board specific navigation components like ADS-b, inertial system, (we are testing collision avoidance system) for flying according international standards of BVLOS permits ( beyond visual line off sight).
The system close to be fully automated – operator of flight doesn’t have the opportunity to operate directly ( by joystick for example) – he mostly works before flight, crating the mission, then he just controls what is going on and interferes in mission when something goes wrong.
The system usually contains two GCS – for operator of flight and operator of payload separately, catapult, tracking and sectoral antennas, payloads – mostly several sorts, 2 up to 5 and more flying vehicles, fuel charger, boxes for packing, and spare parts.
DB: In an interview with DroneBelow.com, you said that your company signed an agreement with the Ukrainian Army for the supply of some unmanned aerial systems. How’s it going with this deal?
AS: We have sold two systems to airforce department and they have been testing it for a year – they call it “exploitation under control”. We couch them continuously and fix parts when “somebody” folds the parachute wrong and the vehicle lands extreamly hard, for example.
Also, we accepted some good suggestions from airforce operators and realised it.
Next year we’re going to perform the next supply to the same department.
For now we are going to arm the new system.
DB: Do you plan to export this unmanned aerial system and did some countries show an interest in buying this system? Have there been any negotiations with potential foreign customers?
AS: We already sold several systems to Asia, Middle East, and Africa. Even this year Skyeton supplied system to Middle Eastern countries, however covid suspended many delegations from various countries.
In pipeline we have dozens of orders, although most deals require around a year to be landed. In this industry the coaching of customer is extremely in demand activities indeed, particularly in our class, having the opportunity to fly long and far and being very multifunctional.
DB: How do you see the future of your company’s unmanned aerial systems, especially taking into account dynamically developing Artificial intelligence?
AS: Nice question!
Our system is designed for vast territories inspection and patrolling. There are two different markets foe RB3 – defence ( military) and civil.
I guess you are from defence :))
There are some anomaly disasters that are leading to unbelievable loss – illegal crossing, illicit trading, maritime hijacking etc..
Totally, it is about around half a trillion dollars a year and it is growing. The reason is nobody can find newly emerged cases on a vast territory right on time when it starts.
Satellite is not option in major cases because of weak resolution and incapability to have images on-line from all areas needed.
Our vision is to install net of stand alone stations along relevant areas – along west coast of the USA for example – in order to patrol these areas.
Every station should operate several flying vehicles with no supervision. It could be possible if someone would come up with robotised launch and recovery system for fully automated operating of unmanned aircraft.
We did it.
At the moment we are able to develop nets of stations with areal small aircrafts that provide actual swarms over needed places for data collection. Processed data should be shared with governmental departments and at the same time help to inspect power lines, roads, pipelines, etc In two years we are going to launch a pilot project with swarms and stations. I suspect the first place going to be in the USA or Canada.
DB: Would you have any advice to offer to people who are interested in starting a drone development business?
AS: There’s lots of advice to be shared, however, overall, I would say – it is a new industry, but don’t be afraid and start it! There will be just a few who will reach the happy moment, but it worth it!
- This interview has been slightly edited and condensed for clarity.