Commercial pilots have a new challenge—the Pacific Drone Challenge. Charles Lindbergh recently asked pilots who among them could fly their drones from Japan to California without stopping or refueling, and the Pacific Drone Challenge hopes to find out if that is possible.
This challenge has not been formally recognized, and has no awards other than bragging rights, unlike the Google Lunar X Prize that is heavily advertised and funded. Although the Pacific Drone Challenge does receive some funding from small teams like the American Sabrewing Aircraft Company, the requirements to participate in the challenge are not as strict as other challenges’.
Participants should also not expect to win any prize money. The challenge’s organizers say that participants should only join the challenge to be a part of history, rather than because they expect financial gain.
The chief operating officer for the American Sabrewing Aircraft Company, Ed De Reyes, says that his team has been working on a “heavy-lift, mid-altitude, long-endurance” drone system for a long time. He is hoping that the Pacific Drone Challenge will give his team the opportunity to show off and test the system, and be a part of history.
The Pacific Drone Challenge is very similar to previous drone endurance tests that have popped up in the last decade. One well-known challenge, the Solar Impulse 2, had two pilots flying a solar plane for over 500 hours, taking 5 days to travel round the globe. Despite the similarities, the Pacific Challenge does have things that make it stand out. Pilots are expected to fly 8300 km above the ocean for nearly 50 hours; their drones will be unmanned. Additionally, the lack of funding means that pilots must fly all that distance using much smaller aircraft and much less money.
There are, of course, several problems that may arise from this challenge. Because this challenge is expected to take nearly 50 hours, battery power is the main concern. Even the best drones available to commercial pilots have battery life of about 30 minutes. The Sabrewing team’s drone will have 24 electric engines, fixed wings, and four rotors, and they hope that the technology will allow their drone to fly at least 8800 km.
Sabrewing is also worried about potential collisions with things in the sky, such as birds or other drones, so they want to install a guidance system to allow the drone to adjust its course in flight.
The Japanese team, iRobotics, plans to use a drone that is in between heavy drones that companies like Facebook use in their work to connect rural areas to the internet, and hobbyist drones that are used by everyday pilots.
Kazunori Saito, the CFO of iRobitics, was careful not to reveal too many details about their drone plan, but he did say that their drone is being worked on vigorously; he also hinted that battery life problems will hopefully be solved by a Japanese company. Saito highlighted the importance of competition to technological advancement, because competition “helps push you on, making both you and your competitors better.”
Like Saito, De Reyes also feels that competition encourages innovation. Just like how Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic ocean without stopping, the Pacific Drone Challenge will show that unmanned drones are just as capable of flying such long distances without stopping.
Via: Popular Mechanics