Outback Challenge

TU Delft’s biplane helicopter delftAcopter flies with a single propeller

Researchers at TU Delft have developed a new hybrid drone that takes off like a helicopter before tilting 90 degrees and then continuing to fly like an aircraft. The drone does this using  mainly a single large propeller, which means that it has hardly any unnecessary control actuators on board when in flight. This makes the unmanned aircraft, known as the ‘delftAcopter’, suitable for providing medical aid in difficult to reach areas, for example. From 27 to 29 September, the drone will be competing in Australia’s UAV Medical Express Challenge. 

Take-off and flight

The new unmanned aircraft takes to the air like a helicopter before completely tilting 90 degrees and then flying horizontally like an aeroplane. The biplane helicopter has one main rotor and two small engines on the tips of its wings. What makes it so innovative is the use of a tailless double-decker wing with a helicopter propeller, put in optimum configuration during take-off, when hovering and during flight.

This design makes it significantly easier to take off and land in difficult areas – from a boat, for example. Researcher Bart Remes from TU Delft’s MAVlab explains: ‘Vertical take-off (or landing) with horizontal flight is not actually new, but never has it been so elegant. Because there is no tail and the aircraft has just a single double-decker wing, it can remain elegantly upright for take-off and landing.’


Thanks to its design, the delftAcopter, with a wingspan of around 1.5 m, can both hover in the air and fly at speeds of up to 100 km/h. It can fly as far as 60 km. In addition, this lightweight drone, weighing around 4 kg, can fly for a whole hour completely on electric power.

Flight is also fully autonomous, using GPS and the latest on-board vision technology. ‘The drone uses its vision technology to select a place to land’, says Remes. ‘Completely independently, it will select the safest place to land, where there are no obstacles in the way’.

Outback Joe

The drone has been designed for use in providing medical aid in difficult to reach areas. It will soon be put to the test, as the TU Delft design team will be competing in Australia’s UAV Medical Express Challenge (27-29 September), an important competition for unmanned aircraft in which they are one of 11 finalists. Participating teams have a special mission to complete in Queensland: rescuing Outback Joe who has fallen ill.


Remes: ‘The challenge is to rescue someone in a flooded area in Queensland. Outback Joe is not feeling well, and after consulting with his doctor, the decision is made to take a quick blood sample for testing. Joe can take the sample himself. Our mission is to get the sample to a lab quickly. This is a particular challenge because the area has been cut off by floods’.

Participating teams are given information on the approximate location of Outback Joe, around 30 km away. The drone has to find Joe and land as close as possible to but no nearer than 30 m to him. Joe has to give the blood sample to the drone, which will take it back to base for medical analysis. All of this needs to happen within an hour. Remes adds: ‘This is the first time that this challenge has been set. It will be really exciting to see how far we can get.’

More information

Background information and pictures of the DelftAcopter http://www.delftacopter.nl/ and http://mavlab.tudelft.nl/

UAV Challenge – Medical Express https://uavchallenge.org/medical-express/

Interviews and demonstrations:

The drone and the team members are travelling to Australia. For interviews (by telephone or Skype), you can contact project manager Bart Remes at [email protected], or on +31 15 27 83707. Videos and photographs are available on the delftAcopter website:http://www.delftacopter.nl/

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