China Flies US-Designed VTOL UAV

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China has completed the first fully autonomous flights of a new vertical take-off and landing tactical unmanned aircraft (VTUAV), the SVU-200.

All photos: Fetters AeroSpace

The SVU-200 was designed for Hunan Sunward Science and Technology of Changsha, China, by Dennis Fetters, who designed Air Command gyroplanes and the Mini-500 single-seat helicopter. Fetters retired in 2000 and now describes himself as a "gypsy rotorcraft designer". 

The SVU-200 is an improved version of the purposed-designed Star-Lite VTUAV Fetters began working on in the US. Fetters says he has been living in Changsha for the last two years, working with Sunward to train its engineers in the development and manufacturing of rotorcraft.

The work in China has transformed the SVU-200 "from a large helicopter flying under 'human-stabilized remote-control', to a fully self-stabilized and self-controlled GPS-navigating autonomous flying vehicle", he says. On it first autonomous flights in early September, the VTUAV took off, hovered and landed automatically. The aircraft then completed 4km- and 5km-long cross-country flights, navigating via GPS waypoints,

The SVU-200 has  a new rotor head and control system that Fetters claims provides "super-stable" control of the helicopter with only a tenth of computer-stabilizing control inputs required with other large unmanned helicopters. Here is video of the flights, but beware: it is quite long and the soundtrack is waaaay over the top...

With a maximum useful load of 200kg, the VTUAV has two internal payload bays, in the nose and in the rear. It is equipped with hardpoints and capable of carrying sling loads, or an external pod, and extended-range tanks. The Rotax 582 engine is fitted a Fetters-designed exhaust system that increases power from its normal 65hp to 78hp. Maximum speed is 209 km/h.

Fetters says he first worked in China after he retired and set up a small R&D machine shop in California to keep himself occupied. He began building prototypes for people and went to China for six months to work with a company that purchased one of his old designs and wanted to put it back into production. That project failed, he says.

Fetters' experience working in China led to an approach from He Qing Hua, CEO of Hunan Sunward Intelligent Machinery. "Over the next six years, I worked out of my California machine shop designing and building prototypes for Sunward, until two years ago when Mr. He made me an offer to move to China and work on the new SVU-200 UAV together." The contract is finished, but Fetters says he'll "stick around to make sure the speed-trials of the SVU-200 are successful."

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