Heavy-Lift Drones Growing in Popularity

June 29, 2023
Draganfly's CEO discusses how the heavy-lift drone market is expanding for wildfire rescue, survey, inspection, military, and logistics applications.

This video appeared in Electronic Design and has been published here with permission.

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Draganfly is a well-known drone manufacturer and distributor with an impressive set of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs). This time around, I took a look at the company's Draganfly Heavy Lift (DHL) drone. It has a 30-km range, almost an hour of flight time (unloaded), and it can carry a payload up to 30.4 kg. The drone is designed for long-range beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) operation.

Draganfly's President and CEO, Cameron Chell, showed off their latest technology in the video above, including the DHL and the 3 XL drone. You can also check out the DHL drone in action in the video below.

Part of what makes the platform so interesting is the ability to carry interchangeable payloads. The system can carry heavy sensor packages such as hyperspectral and bathymetric LiDAR. These are often used for large-area surveys that required detailed maps. 

The Commander 3 XL drone is designed for surveying and other chores rather than heavy lift and delivery (see figure).

The 3 XL is very modular and there are over 16 standard payloads that can be easily swapped. It has a 50-minute flight time at speeds up to 72.4 km/h and a 38.6-km range. The airframe collapses for transportation. The drone features quick-release propellers for easy replacement. The battery system uses semi-permanent carrier plates that provide automatic connection when installed on the drone. 


The video transcript below has been edited for clarity. 

So I'm here today, fortunate enough to display two of our newest products, the Heavy Lift Drone and our 3 XL drone. Now, the features of this Heavy Lift Drone is that it carries about 30 kilograms. At no weight, it's got 55-minute flight time. At 30 kilograms, it's got about 25-minute flight time. 

The other aspect about this is it's only about a 15- to maybe 20-minute setup, and breaks down into a small case. It's designed to fit into small spaces, ATVs, all those types of things. Multiple battery packs, extended life on it. Great interest from wildfire rescue, military applications, lots of logistics applications. This will be available in Q3.

This is our Commander 3 XL drone. This is a real special drone for us. It's, you know, likely maybe the most efficient drone currently on the market. This is a 23-lb. drone that carries 24 pounds of payload for 25 minutes. Without payload, it's got about a 55-minute flight time. This is about the size of a coffee table. So it's not your small little drone. It is a utility-type drone. 

Now, it's really important that it fits under that 55-lb. weight restriction, and so with this type of utility in that category of drone, it's a category owner, in our opinion. A couple of things here is that it's modular. So you can see we've got about 17 different payloads that are all integrated, both software wise and payload clip-in wise on this. 

It also takes all of the old M600 payloads. So the M600 was discontinued from DJI. All of those payloads that people invested in to put on their slop right on this thing and go out of the gate on it. So super excited about what this means hopefully for the industry. We've really positioned it as a modular drone to work with all the other different payloads and software out there. 

So hopefully what that means is that if you're a software vendor or a payload vendor, you don't have a situation where you've got a customer that wants your software, but they can't buy it because they don't have a drone that fits it because the M600 is out of production, or all the rest of the drones are too small or too big. 

And so this is hopefully something that can fit that customer profile. In terms of heavy-lift drones, we see that market expanding. We're really, really focused in the areas of industrial, survey, inspection, military, logistics; and the payloads are only going to get more sophisticated. We also see the payloads or the drones needing to carry multiple payloads at a time and battery life is going to be everything. 

When you look at a drone like this, I mean, it is stripped down to the bare necessities. And the big, big focus is on our battery capacity and our payload array, if you will. So, you know, if you're flying a drone, what you really want to do is to maximize the most amount of sensors that you can fly at one time. 

So you're flying less missions, less risk, less pilot time, etc. We see a consistent growth towards heavier-lift drones and a market niche that's opening up there that’s actually quite substantial. 

Check out more of our AUVSI Xponential 2023 coverage.