During the recent Aero Friedrichshafen, Diamond CEO Christian Dries announced that his company was in the process of developing a robotic helicopter, the “Hero”, capable of conducting autonomous missions.
I had to let that news sink in… Sure, we had already witnessed optionally manned DA-42 variants. However, the reader will forgive me if I didn’t see this one coming. It’s one thing to develop a fixed wing aircraft with some sensing capability; it’s a completely different one to develop a rotorcraft (with no prior experience to speak of) that has sufficient processing power to make its own decisions. What’s more, Mr. Dries indicated that the “Hero” has already flown.
So far, not much has been revealed, but for the sake of initiating a discussion we can speculate the following:
- The two engines and associated rotors will likely be placed side by side to improve lateral stability.
- With 250 lbs of sensor equipment and a total weight of just over 1,300 lbs, it’s safe to assume that there won’t be much room for payload. If we compare these basic specs to, say, the “Firescout”, the size of the “Hero” should be substantially smaller. I also suspect that some of the weight savings will come in the form of reduced metal in the fuselage and added composites (as is the case in other Diamond-made fixed-wing products).
- The lack of payload and the stated ability for the “Hero” to hover for 6.5 hours point towards an aircraft that will be only used for reconnaissance and surveillance operations. In that respect, its missions will be more focused than those of Boeing’s Hummingbird, as an example. This assumption seems to be further reinforced by Mr. Dries’ comments that the aircraft can hover for “nearly four hours” over one spot with no mention about range. One has to believe that specific applications removed from the battlefield likely also include border patrol.
At this point my primary thought is whether Diamond has sufficient financial wherewithal to bring the project to completion: we are aware of the delays in the D-Jet program (which, by the way, is a beautiful aircraft), but then again the recent trend towards UAVs appears to give credence to Diamond’s new strategy. And once we find out who is their yet-to-be-named partner, we may be able to put all doubts to rest.
What’s certain is that with the number of players in the UAV market, Diamond will be in good company.