Monday, July 29, 2013

Prop system ready for flight testing

After years of research, Thunder Bay’s Aerovate Inc. will flight-test its variable-pitch propeller system this summer, with the goal of bringing the technology to market this fall.

Aerovate’s system, the brainchild of owner Andrew Kondor, is designed to be used on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, for civilian and military applications.

The company has completed construction on a 12-foot unmanned aircraft, which will be used to test the system, and Florida-based Sensenich, Aerovate’s partner in making the propeller part of the hub system, has finalized the design for the new prop.

Kondor anticipated the system would be fully tested by the end of August.

“Our test airplane is finished, and we’re at the point where, obviously, we know that our system works, and we were in the process in the last few years of testing it to make sure we have something that works,” Kondor said. “But now we have to get it in the air to be able to give real-time flight data to potential customers.”

To help facilitate his work, Aerovate was approved for $62,500 in funding from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp.

“It’s going to be used to leverage the current investment funds that we have to be able to buy equipment that otherwise would be a little bit out of our range, as far as pricing goes,” he said. “It allows us to have the best possible equipment on hand to test our propeller system and allow us to commercialize it to the fullest extent, providing the best data to our customers.”

The money will allow the company to buy a better quality autopilot system, telemetry equipment to monitor in-flight progress, and transportation equipment for the plane. Government funding means the company will have to borrow less to finance the project.

Aerovate’s funding announcement coincided with another government release. In June, the National Research Council Canada (NRC) launched a series of new programs designed to support the Canadian aerospace industry.

One program, the Civil Unmanned Aircraft Systems program, is designed to address challenges associated with system technology and regulation, as well as facilitate collaboration between developers, providers and key end-users for successful demonstration projects.

Kondor said testing he’s done in the past through the NRC has been helpful in collecting data needed to prove the viability of the technology to investors, and there could be potential for this new funding.

“We do certainly have civilian applications for this propeller system; statistics show that the greater use of UAVs in the next five to 10 years will be in the high-value civilian applications areas and less will be actually used in the military sense, so for our product itself it’s not specific to military,” he said. “It’s basically something that can be strapped onto any unmanned system to help it fly better.”

High-value civilian applications encompass search and rescue, monitoring the migration of animals, harbour patrol, border patrol, disaster relief uses, observation for police companies, and security agencies, amongst other uses.

But currently the greater use for UAVs remains military observation, he noted, so the system his company has designed will be targeted for a specific motor size and range, which is widely in use now. Kondor’s optimistic that, as civilian agencies adopt more use of UAV technology, they’ll use Aerovate’s propeller system to give them more efficiencies in flight.

In August, Aerovate will attend the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) convention, taking place in Washington, DC, where the company will showcase its hub system. Kondor hopes to be fielding orders at that time and into early fall. He’s received inquiries from Israeli Aerospace and the U.S. Army about the technology.

The system’s reputation has already preceded its appearance in Washington. Aerovate was one of six Canadian companies invited to the Canadian Embassy in September to present its new technology at a technology-based conference there.

“One of the people at the Canadian embassy called us,” Kondor said. “I’m not sure how they got our number, but I’m quite happy about that. It’s a very big deal for us.”

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