It took only three years for the Czech company Primoco UAV SE to transform the original idea of its founder to create a highly efficient and resilient unmanned civilian aircraft to today’s fully functional system that has been certified by the Civil Aviation Authority and is already in full production. Model One 100 and One 150 are becoming another success story for the Czech aviation industry.
The vision and the practical experience of its founder are behind the emergence of a new Czech aircraft industry. In the past, Ladislav Semetkovský was primarily devoted to media and business, but he also wanted to manufacture his own products. In his work at the eastern edges of Europe, especially in the Russian Federation, he realized that there was a lack of a high performance, robust and safe unmanned aircraft in the market that could be used in a challenging environment for such tasks as oil and gas pipeline supervision and other forms of aerial monitoring. “There are about a thousand unmanned aircraft manufacturers in the world today, but 90% of them make tiny battery-powered drones with an endurance of tens of minutes, with very limited ability to carry any useful size of payload. At the opposite end, there are large and powerful systems that have been developed for military needs. So, in the middle of 2014, I decided to try to produce my own aircraft to fill the gap in the civilian market,” says Semetkovský.
As an active private pilot, he had always been involved in flying, but he had to find a suitable designer to develop an entirely new, highly sophisticated aircraft & flight system. After a few months of searching, Radek Suk became the primary designer for the new machine. Initially, the team defined the performance and capabilities the unmanned system needed, but did not want to take unnecessary risks, and eventually, after careful consideration, they decided for the concept of a “classic” unmanned aircraft with an internal combustion engine and a propeller. At the beginning of 2015, they began production of a “wooden” prototype, which was first flown in August of the same year.
Developed as a “big” aircraft
Then they followed with a series of tests and improvements for identified deficiencies. They put significant effort into the development of the chassis, which had to be able to provide the necessary stability for take-off and at the same time protect the aircraft in the event of a hard landing. Overall, the test results were extremely positive, so Primoco UAV began to develop technology for full scale production in its new premises on the outskirts of Prague, where they moved at the beginning of 2016. At the same time, they had to find suppliers for various sub-components and systems, including the drive unit, the autopilot and the remote-control datalink. An important milestone occurred on March 26, 2016, when the first production aircraft, made of composite fibreglass and carbon fibre, took off, named One 100.
In order to be able to use the new unmanned aircraft in complex civilian air traffic, it was necessary to design it so that it could be certified by the national aviation authorities in the countries in which it was to be operated. “Therefore, Primoco UAV worked on the basis that the One 100 is a standard civilian aviation aircraft,” explains Ladislav Semetkovský. Its aircraft is therefore composed of elements produced to the quality required by normal aviation regulations. The same applies to all system documentation, such as the 370-page operating manual, which describes in detail the operating procedures and maintenance and also the pilot training processes for the remote-controlled aircraft. As a result of this focused approach, in May 2017, the company received full machine certification of the One 100 from the Civil Aviation Authority, although this was not a simple process for both parties. The new unmanned aircraft is a pioneer in many respects, and both the regulator and the manufacturer had to deal with situations that had never been encountered before, such as registering the on-board transponder that the One 100 is equipped with.
Primoco UAVs are created from locally sourced components which are produced almost 80% in the Czech Republic, whether directly by the company itself or from an external supplier.
In addition, the company, in the next thirteen months developed its own engine – the Primoco Engine 500. It is an air-cooled 500cc four-cylinder unit with 50hp weighing only 25 kg, including an electric starter and a 1400W alternator. This engine is used for the Primoco UAV model One 150 and is also intended for sale and installation in third-party aircraft.
Some systems, however, have to be secured from abroad. For example, it is a top Spanish autopilot which allows fully automatic take-off and landing with the help of an integrated radio altimeter. The autopilot provides the aircraft with considerable stability during the flight in unfavourable weather conditions and it is able to compensate for side winds of up to 20m/s during take-off and landing. And unless it is intentionally fully deactivated, it can also work as a reliable monitor for a human pilot so that in manual mode it does not allow the pilot to exceed the machine’s safety limits.
Another key high-quality system is the Norwegian datalink, which is one of the best systems in the world. Without the use of repeater units, it can control the aircraft at a distance of up to 200 km using its transmission capacity of 6 Mbit/s. This is, of course, also intended for the transmission of images from cameras or other sensors, but part of the capacity is used to continuously transfer telemetry data from the aircraft to the ground control unit. Thus, the operator has a perfect overview of all the flight parameters and the functionality and technical condition of the individual components and systems.
In December 2017, Primoco UAV also implemented an Inmarsat satellite datalink that allows communication between the Ground Control System and the aircraft. The limitation in its use is however its transmission rate of 150-200 kbps.
A Mode S transponder is another important part of the One 100 and One 150. With this transponder, the unmanned aircraft is both visible and identifiable not only to air traffic control authorities, but also to all aircraft equipped with the Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS), which significantly reduces the risk of a collision in the air. A high level of security is also provided by backup and emergency modes of the key systems. For example, the autopilot is programmed to bring the machine back to the take-off point if the control signal is lost. The battery backup also has a smart system governing the alternator powering the on-board power grid – if it is disconnected, then the devices will be disconnected that are not necessary for flight, and the on-board battery will allow for at least another three hours of flight, which in the typical use of the aircraft is sufficient for a safe return.
The Primoco One 100/150 is designed as a means of aerial exploration and monitoring, and it can be equipped with the appropriate special equipment. In the One 150, the payload weight can be up to 50 kg which can be installed on the front of the aircraft or in the free space inside the hull. The standard unit is a stabilized Forward Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) light equipped with a high-resolution colour zoomable camera for day time and one night-time or infra-red camera. Primoco UAV delivers camera systems from the Australian company UAV VISION and the Swedish DST CONTROL. At the customer’s request, it is possible to integrate virtually any sensor within the constraints of dimensions and weight. In addition to EO/IR camera systems these include the popular LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) laser scanner which is key for creating digital 3D terrain models or for mapping complex objects such as open-cast mines. Primoco UAV implements this LIDAR solution in co-operation with the Austrian company RIEGL.
Potential in Russia and beyond
The founder of Primoco UAV gained inspiration for the development of an unmanned system in the Russian Federation where he saw a great potential for its aircraft. Russia is now interwoven with many thousands of kilometres of pipelines and gas pipelines, which need to be checked regularly. Due to the large distances and often inaccessible terrain, this role is now filled with conventional helicopters, but their operation is rather expensive. Compared to them, the One 100 and the One 150 can perform the same tasks for only 10% of the cost which is a significant saving even for big energy companies.
Despite the very good prospects in the Russian market, the first production machines are heading to other regions. The Iraqi Ministry of Interior and the Malaysian Defence Ministry have already approved the deployment of the aircraft within their security forces. Each contract represents a demanding administrative process, as the export of unmanned vehicles is subject to approval by the Czech Ministry of Industry and Trade. As of December 31, 2017, the company had produced a total of 39 aircraft.
Primoco UAV is looking for pilots
The Primoco UAV also invests in a personnel training system that will serve unmanned aircraft operators. The flight crew is composed of a couple of persons, one of which manages the aircraft itself, and the other controls the camera system or other sensors. The approved One 100 and One 150 Unmanned Pilot Training Toolkit includes 160 hours of theoretical training that is comparable to the Private Pilot License PPL (Private Pilot License) and 200 hours of machine control experience. Due to the expected need for training more people, for which the company does not currently have sufficient capacity, the company is looking for new pilot-instructors to work with clients abroad. An ideal candidate would be a pilot of giant R/C models with theoretical knowledge of ULL/PPL and good knowledge of English.