Unmanned Helicopters

Helicopter UAVs and Drones

What is an unmanned helicopter?

Unmanned helicopters or helicopter UAVs are unmanned aircraft that operate on the same flight principles as manned helicopters, using spinning rotors to generate lift and thrust. The most common rotor configuration uses a single main rotor, plus a tail rotor that provides counter-torque. Tiltrotor helicopter UAVs also exist, featuring rotors mounted on rotating engine pods that change angle to provide vertical lift or forward flight.

Helicopter drones may be designed from the ground up or converted from existing manned platforms. The latter may feature the option to switch between piloted or unmanned flight, and in this case may be referred to as Optionally Piloted Vehicles (OPVs).

UMS-SKELDAR-V-200-Single-Rota-Drone
UMS SKELDAR-V-200 Single Rota Drone

Single rota drone propulsion

Due to the size of most helicopter UAVs, they are typically powered by gasoline or diesel engines. Batteries have a lower energy density than conventional fuels, and the weight of batteries required to provide long flight times for large helicopter drones would be prohibitive. Micro-sized helicopter drones, designed to be carried by a single operator and typically used for short-duration military and battlefield reconnaissance missions, do exist and are battery-powered.

Fuel cell-based propulsion systems, which convert chemical energy from fuel (typically hydrogen) into useful electrical energy, are also being tested on unmanned platforms. Fuel cells for helicopter UAV propulsion have a number of advantages, such as clean emissions and a higher energy density than batteries.

Alpha-800-Unmanned Helicopter
Alpha-800-Unmanned Helicopter

Payloads and applications

Unmanned helicopters can carry a wide variety of payloads, including daytime and IR cameras, environmental sensors, LiDAR scanning systems and radio relay equipment, as well as missiles and other offensive capabilities.

Helicopter drones have been employed for a broad range of missions across many industries and sectors. Applications include military ISR (Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance), battlefield fire support, search & rescue, mapping & surveying, precision agriculture and many more.

Schiebel CAMCOPTER-S-100

Unmanned helicopters versus multirotors and fixed-wing drones

Single rota drones can carry larger payloads and fuel amounts than multirotor UAVs and smaller fixed-wing drones, and thus have greater flight endurance. They are also more efficient at higher speeds.

Due to the VTOL capability of helicopter UAVs, they can operate in a wider range of ground conditions than fixed-wing aircraft, which need a certain amount of space to take off and land.

Designs tend to be more complex than those of other drones, leading to increased maintenance requirements.

Uavos UVH-120E VTOL Drone Helicopter
Uavos UVH-120E VTOL Drone Helicopter