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Drones that Fly for Hours, Not Minutes

Posted by Glen Disque on

The future has arrived. Technology has advanced to the point of allowing a multirotor aircraft to remain aloft for hours instead of the minutes we currently deal with now. Previously, one of the biggest downsides comparing quadcopters to the fixed wing unmanned aircraft was the length of flight time and the speed with which most fixed wing models (the gas versions) can be re-fueled and back up in the air. Unless you have a bag of spare batteries with you (which are pricey) and charged, you were out of luck with the single and multirotors. Although, to be fair, most higher end helicopters are gas powered but only a very few are talented enough to pilot those.

Which brings us back to the current state of quadcopters, hexopters and octopters. Think, for a moment, of the evolution of what we call “the drone”. Most helicopters and model aircraft when I was a kid was purchased in a kit, was built by hand, used nitro gas and took a very long time to learn how to operate. I spent weeks building a balsa wood plane to see it auger in after a few minutes of flight time on several occasions. But that was the learning curve. We had a buddy system where some of the older, more experienced guys would help us younger whipper-snappers, yet poop still happened.

A decade ago, very simple 2-channel helicopters started popping onto the scene which allowed anyone with $30-$50 in their pocket an immediate experience with flight. They charged for an hour and flew for about 5 minutes; but hey, you were flying. Plus they were SOOO easy. That morphed into the 3 channel and 4 channel battery operated helicopters that were ready to fly out of the box. Then the quadcopters began showing up. The largest quadcopter company (or at least most well-known) is DJI. Why would they be the most well-known you ask? Simple, DJI was one of the first commercially viable quadcopter with a camera/gimbal setup coupled with GPS navigation. It began a revolution.

Well, the next revolution is beginning to percolate. Imagine not having to land every 15-20 minutes to switch batteries! Hydrogen fuel cells will allow a quadcopter to remain in the air for up to 10 hours. If you add the weight and electrical demands of cameras, gimbals and gps systems the flight time is reduced to 3-4 hours. This isn’t a pipe dream, but a reality now. A British company and one from Singapore have developed prototypes. Within a year or two, keep a look out for these incredible machines.

As always, fly safe!

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