In a remarkable feat of engineering and innovation, the University of Manchester’s team of engineers recently achieved an aviation milestone by building and successfully flying the world’s largest quadcopter drone. This ambitious endeavor was undertaken to inspire creativity in design and explore more environmentally friendly materials for aerospace structures while adhering to strict aviation regulations.
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are only allowed to fly with a weight limit of 25 kg (55 lb) without specific clearance from the UK Civil Aviation Authority. The Manchester team settled on a design that tipped the scales at 24.5 kg (54 lb) because they were keen to build a quadcopter that weighed just under this restriction.
To achieve this, the engineers made an unconventional choice, opting to forgo the usual lightweight carbon fiber typically used in such applications. Instead, they embraced a creative alternative, utilizing 5-mm (0.2-in) thick foamboard, which features a foam core with a paper skin. Laser-cut sheets of foamboard were meticulously assembled using hot glue to create the quadcopter’s frame.
Research engineer Dan Koning, the leader of the design and build team, emphasized the unique qualities of foamboard, stating, “Foamboard is an interesting material to work with. Used in the right way, we can create complex aerospace structures where every component is designed to be only as strong as it needs to be – there is no room for over-engineering here.” The team’s disciplined approach to design and extensive background research enabled them to assert confidently that they had built the largest quadcopter drone globally.
Measuring an impressive 6.4 meters (21 ft) from corner to corner, this colossal quadcopter outshines any purpose-built uncrewed quadcopter of any weight class known at the time of its construction. While there are larger electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) aircraft prototypes, these vehicles often utilize more than four propellers, making the Manchester team’s achievement all the more exceptional.
This project not only pushes the envelope of what is feasible in the field of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), but it also serves as a motivating illustration of how creative problem-solving may reduce aviation’s negative environmental effects. The engineers at the University of Manchester have shown that it is feasible to have huge dreams and still consider the welfare of our world by selecting environmentally friendly materials and following aviation laws. Watch as this innovative quadcopter takes to the air and paves the path for even more incredible feats in the future.