Firefly (really) heavy-lift drone boasts mega-endurance, too

Firefly heavy-lift drone

Have a weighty payload you need to spirit across the sky farther than other UAVs can handle? You might want to check out the Firefly heavy-lift drone, which can lug 100 lbs. of gear cargo up to two full hours.

Affectionately likened to an aerial pickup truck by Joshua Resnick, CEO of manufacturer Parallel Flight Technologies, the Firefly heavy-lift drone is designed to operate as something of a step-up hauling vehicle from existing equipment-transporting UAVs to helicopters. For starters, it weighs in at 120 lbs. all on its own (plan on have bit of help lugging it to takeoff spots), and stands three feet tall with a span of five feet. According to the Santa Cruz-area company, the Firefly’s hybrid powering design enables its maximum two-hour flight capacity while carrying an additional 100 lbs. of payload – plus fuel for the internal combustion engines paired with its 60V, 5000 mAh battery.

Parallel Flight Technologies says that strength and endurance combination is 10 times more than its nearest competitor can muster. But the heavy-lift Firefly drone can fly even longer when it isn’t maxing out its muscle power. The UAV can remain aloft for four hours with 40 lbs. loaded on, and seven hours with a 10 lbs. payload. According to Resnick, the craft – whose current top speed is 100 mph – will eventually be developed to carry as much as 1,000 lbs. 

The UAV is designed to fly massive cargo for a variety of missions, including big industrial, engineering, construction, medical supply deliveries, and humanitarian mission. It has also been adapted to assist firefighters battling California’s blazes. Initially, the drone is being prepared to offer support to people facing infernos as an alternative to helicopters.

“What we don’t have are essentially pickup trucks of the sky,” Resnick told San Jose’s Mercury News of the logic in developing the drone as an asset during wildfires. “We don’t have workhorses that can bring supplies to firefighters on the front lines or drop off payloads to do controlled burns, and we don’t have drones that can put small fires out.”

In addition to its work for enterprise clients, Parallel Flight Technologies is readying the heavy-lift drone to replace smaller, capacity-limited UAVs that are increasingly being used to ignite prescribed fires. In contrast to the lower capacities of those craft, the Firefly will be able to help set preventive fires over 1,000 to 4,000 acres of land in a single outing.

The company has received assistance from NASA in developing its hybrid motoring system – whose patent is currently pending – and has also gotten grants from the US Forest Service’s parent agency, the Department of Agriculture.

Resnick acknowledges that the size and mass required to permit the Firefly drone to transport heavy-lift payloads for longer stints periods makes it a far trickier drone to pilot than smaller kinds – one reason the company flies the craft for clients as a service.

“When you’re tuning the aircraft, it’s almost like a baby is learning to walk,” Resnick told the Mercury News. “It has a lot to learn before it can actually control those muscles. Then once it knows how to walk, you can take a step back and say, ‘Just follow this path.’”

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