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We have designed a drone that combines a short take-off capability with efficient cruise by virtue of an innovative internal combustion – electric hybrid powertrain.

What it does

Platform for Environmental Research in Extreme Geographical Region using Integrated Navigation (PEREGRIN) can lift heavy payloads out of constrained spaces, such as the helideck of a research vessel, and can deliver them over long distances efficiently.

Your inspiration

The British Antarctic Survey plans to operate the RSS Sir David Attenborough, an advanced polar research vessel commissioned by the Natural Environment Research Council to perform research in polar regions. One of the planned features of the ship is to have the capability to deploy remotely operated vehicles and autonomous platforms, including small, low cost, autonomous underwater vehicles. These are capable of deep dives, but their very short horizontal range and speed limit their usability. Our solution is a drone capable of delivering these underwater robots to previously unreachable areas in the Arctic ice.

How it works

The short take-off is achieved using a large wingspan with low speed capabilities. The cruise efficiency of the aircraft in long range operation is extended by utilising rapid prototyped wing tips which act to increase the effective aspect ratio. A waterjet cut sheet aluminium chassis houses the vital components of the drone, with a reinforced carbon fibre core to provide necessary strength and a load path for heavy landings. The integrated payload adapter allows for a variety of payloads to be attached to the drone, permitting multitudes of missions to be carried out. Current testing with an all-electric propulsion system shows the capability for a short take-off (16 m with payload) and landing back on the helideck using an arrester hook and a horizontally laid net. When the drone is not in use, it can be packed up into 6 sections with a maximum of 2 m length.

Design process

We began with a broad conceptual design study ranging from tilt to rotary winged drones. From a computational analysis of the projected performance of these, we decided that a conventional fixed wing platform provided the best balance between reliability and performance. A hybrid power system was chosen to provide both short take-off and efficient cruise (translating into long range). The sub-systems have been iterated using simulations and tests to ensure that the Mark 1 prototype was a success. Laboratory testing included heavy landings scenarios in front of a high-speed camera, to verify our computational stress analyses, as well as bench tests of the drivetrain designed to validate our design calculations, and to better understand the performance and efficiency of the system. Finally, a campaign of increasingly realistic prototype flight tests was conducted to test the systems integration aspects of the design, as well its handling and aerodynamic performance. From flight testing, the aerodynamic planform, live telemetry, payload release, short take-off and landing capabilities, were proven to work.

How it is different

Unlike a typical multirotor, fixed wing drones are more energy efficient during cruise, thus better suited for long range missions. However, fixed wing drones need a sizable open space for take-off and landing. A 4 m wing span coupled with the hybrid propulsion configuration allows the drone to take off from conventionally restrictive runways (less than 25 m) with a 5 kg payload. Some of the unique aspect of the product include: 1. An airframe designed to make the most of state-of-the-art rapid manufacturing techniques and low cost materials. 2. A hybrid propulsion system that enables the efficient performance of a variety of missions (across the payload-range-take-off distance envelope). 3. A distributed propulsion architecture drawing on a mix of energy sources and powerplant types to afford the reliability required by beyond visual line of sight mission.

Future plans

1. Continue flight testing to build a more complete picture of the handling, stability and performance of the aircraft and its hybrid propulsion system across its operating range. 2. Test and further develop the autonomous flight capabilities of the aircraft (both from a hardware and a software perspective). 3. Test the aircraft in a maritime environment in view of science missions conducted from ships.


At the University of Southampton’s annual showcase of Masters’ project work, we won the Design Engagement Award, as well as being shortlisted for the Shell Innovation Award and Excellence in Engineering Design Award.

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