Did we say that yesterday at the UAV Challenge was good? Well today may have been even more amazing. Today was the day when we aimed to let at least five teams fly their missions in the 2018 Medical Express Challenge. In the end, six teams flew.
First to fly today were MelAvio Avionics Club from Poland. Their impressive looking aircraft was brought out onto the field only for the team to have to take it back undercover due to a sudden deterioration in the weather. We had a 30 minute weather hold and started again. After the restart, MelAvio began their engine testing only to find that there were issues with the running of the main petrol engine (used for the forward flight portion of their mission). They worked bravely for over half an hour to try and fix the issue and finally launched their aircraft into the air. But it soon became apparent to them that there were still issues with the engine and they decided to call it and land and not continue. This was a great piece of airmanship. Safety first!
Next up was Forward Robotics from Canada. They were returning from 2016 when they first showed off their amazing looking aircraft. They had two years of updates and practice and were another hot favourite to complete the mission. The first aircraft took off well and headed down range. But the second aircraft had an issue immediately after take off and did not head into the range. The team decided to abort the mission and manually land the second aircraft. The first aircraft then landed outside of the Base area due to a technical issue and their mission was over.
The third team for the day was ISAAC UAV from Thailand. They brought a helicopter to the last Medical Express event in 2016 but this year decided to use a quadplane. They seemed extremely well prepared (as they were in 2016). Their set up took a little bit longer than they hoped and they used up some of their 60 minute mission time completely all their final checks. The aircraft performed a take off and headed off down the range but a loss of one of their communication links meant that the aircraft’s return to home behaviour kicked in. The aircraft flew straight back to the Base and was manually landed by the safety pilot. The team tried again but they encountered another issue that meant the aircraft took off but then simply hovered. They aborted the mission and their UAV Challenge was at an end.
MAVLab TUDelft, from The Netherlands, were up next and they decided to use an elevated work platform to extend their antenna height and hence communication range. The work platform was parked next to the ground station area and held the team’s main radio antenna. They also had an Iridium (satellite) link. The set up went smoothly and the take off seemed very straight forward. The team even brought some lunch to have while waiting for their aircraft to complete the mission. A technical issue with the GPS location feed they were supplying to the judges meant that the Dynamic No Fly Zone part of the competition could not be fully completed, although the aircraft was seen to be avoiding obstacles as it transited past the Base. Once at the farm, the aircraft automatically detected Joe’s target and initiated its landing sequence. Then disaster struck! As it slowly descended the main rotor switched off prematurely, roughly 1.5m above the ground, and the aircraft fell to the ground with the impact breaking the wing structure. The judges and scrutineers at the farm immediately declared that the aircraft was not fit to take off again (they saw the wing bent 45 degrees before they made it safe) and so the mission was over.
The number five team for Thursday were Griffin UAV from Thailand. This was there first UAV Challenge event and it was clear to the judges from the way the team walked onto the field that they were professional but also determined to enjoy their mission time. They had a single aircraft attempting the mission and their set up and pre-flight checks went well. The aircraft was cleared for take off and immediately headed to Waypoint 1 at the south of the range. All systems appeared to be operating normally and the aircraft came back towards the Base, swung around (as it is supposed to do) and headed off to Outback Joe’s farm. The mission up to this point was fully autonomous. The judges and scrutineers at the farm reported the aircraft’s successful arrival overhead. At this point the aircraft itself or the team (it is not clear as we write this) decided that there was not enough battery life to perform a remote landing and subsequent take off and get back to the Base to complete the mission. So instead the aircraft took some photos of the farm and returned directly to the Base without Outback Joe’s blood sample. The aircraft landed properly at the Base, delighting the team and the crowd that they still had a fully functioning aircraft. Griffin UAV had a lot to be proud of.
At this point in the day, the team JetStream from Poland elected to go to the end of the flight queue and that made Team Dhaksha from India next. They were given their 15 minute warning to get ready and starting organising. This team has two very unusual hybrid multirotor aircraft. Each have a petrol engine that power a generator for the electric motors. They report flight times for these aircraft at between 3 and 4 hours! The crowd was very eager to see how they performed. Team Dhaksha elected not to compete for the Extension Autonomy Challenge but instead focussed on completing the mission full autonomously. Both aircraft took off autonomously. The retrieval aircraft headed off down the range and the support communications relay aircraft parked itself about 30m above and to the side of the flying field, where it remained for the rest of the mission. The mission proceeded in a complete hands off fashion. The retrieval aircraft completed the first leg, swung around the Base and headed to the farm.
On arrival at the farm it began searching for Outback Joe’s target and reported that it had done so and that it had initiated a landing. The judges and scrutineers confirmed that it appeared to be landing in a safe location and so the aircraft was left to complete its landing. But it then became clear that it was well away from the 10m distance from the target that it needed to be for Team Dhaksha to officially complete the mission. The aircraft landed 35.6m away in the next field to where the target was lying. The scrutineer at the farm placed Outack Joe’s blood sample in the landed aircraft and pushed the arm button. Sixty seconds later, the aircraft autonomously took to the air and headed back the way it had come. Both aircraft successfully landed autonomously after the retrieval aircraft completed the full mission distance (approximately 24 nautical miles). The mission was over and full autonomy had been used throughout. Even though the mission was not successfully completed due to the 10m rule, it was a remarkable achievement. Hats off to Team Dhaksha!
We have just two more teams to fly tomorrow. They are the High Flyers and JetStream, both teams are from Poland. Friday maybe another epic day at the UAV Challenge. We certainly hope so. Stay tuned…