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Zenith AeroTech (Afton, VA) has integrated an advanced flight radar, gimbaled EO/IR camera and mobile ad hoc network (MANET) radio on its QUAD 8 tethered UAS at the request of a US federal customer, demonstrating the long endurance that tethered UAS can provide in support of persistent surveillance for force protection and/or early warning missions.

The company focuses on the provision of tethered drones for both law enforcement and military applications, according to Don Leckrone, who spearheads the company’s business development efforts. “The capability was originally developed for firefighting, but has become a lot more sophisticated over time. We are currently building an interface that will allow operators to design their own applications in complex arenas such as force protection,” he told MON in a 22 March interview.

The advantages of free-flight drones are obvious, but they are limited to 20-45 minutes endurance max. We can push a lot of power up the tether for the QUAD 8, for example, and offer virtually unlimited endurance,” he added. Designed to operate at about 400 feet altitude, the company’s sUAS line can carry payloads of 10-24lbs, and the latest flight tests have shown the ability to carry a range of cutting-edge systems simultaneously: an Advanced EchoFlight radar (Echodyne), the HD45 gimbaled EO/IR camera (Trillium Engineering), and the MPU5 MANET radio (Persistent Systems), for example.

Countering the potential objection of a high acoustic signature for a hovering drone over time, Leckrone observes that “acoustic signature is a function of altitude and rotor design – our hexadrone system, for instance, has a signature of barely 48dB at 400 feet. The QUAD 8, with a 20-30 lb payload, runs about 65-70dB – still an acceptable signature for most applications,” he told MON.

What are the main challenges facing Zenith in promoting this useful capability? “Well – COVID-19 has not helped a great deal,” comments Leckrone. “We are several months behind our original marketing plans thanks to that – but there has been huge acceptance of the efficacy of small drones and we are capitalising on that. Our mission is to provide diverse payloads for specific applications, rather than an off-the-shelf product into which a mission profile has to be shoehorned. So the main challenge is getting the word out to enough potential operators in all the various spheres we are targeting.” And they seem to be getting there: Zenith AeroTech hopes to be demonstrating its impressive capabilities to a special operations group as early as next month.

Zenith AeroTech is exactly the sort of innovative and agile SME MON likes to learn more about. Their story has more chapters in it – watch this space for further information in the coming weeks and months.

For a brief video of the Zenith Aerospace Quad 8 deployed, click here: 

ZAT_Quad8_flight from Zenith AeroTech on Vimeo.

 

The QUAD 8 can carry a diverse, integrated payload over extended periods, providing persistence surveillance capabilities for a wide variety of mission sets. (Photo: Zenith AeroTech)

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