It’s the stuff of childhood imagination: a flying unpiloted aircraft that can take off and land on water. As a fan of the popular kids TV show Thunderbirds, we can’t deny this latest drone development fascinates us also.
Chinese drone manufacturer UVS Intelligence System have announced they will be the first company globally to produce an unmanned aircraft that is capable of land and water launch. With a flying time of up to 15 hours, there are several potential commercial and military applications.
Based on Spanish ultralight aircraft Colyaer Freedom S100, the 98% carbon fibre body means it is lightweight, and without a payload has a range of 2,000km. UVS Intelligence System acquired the IP rights for the body design from Colyaer, and have been testing the unmanned vehicle as far back as December 2015.
Founder and chairman Liu Jiandong has reported that the company will have samples ready for potential customers by the end of 2017. Cargo capacity is up to 250kg which carries broad implications for use including delivery. UVS refuse to respond to calls to name prospective customers, but it seems clear that Chinese e-commerce companies like JD.com are pursuing drone deliveries as part of their business models (like Amazon). However, heavy payloads will limit its range, and restrictions on flight areas due to size (5.85m long) may also limit its use in manned airspace.
Another possible purchaser of these amphibious drones may be the Chinese government. As the building of manmade islands in disputed areas of the South China Sea continues, the U650 may provide as useful tool for delivery of supplies and surveillance in environments lacking takeoff and landing areas for traditional drone aircraft.
Amphibious drones are here to stay. How long until they make it into the next generation of children’s entertainment?