Israel’s ‘AirMule’ in Flight Testing

Air muleAn Israeli company that spent a decade developing an autonomous, unmanned vertical takeoff and landing craft utilizing internal lift rotors says its first prototype is now going through flight tests and it’s at work on a second prototype.

Called the AirMule, the rotorcraft is envisioned for use as an unmanned transport – ferrying supplies into a combat zone or taking out wounded – operating in areas where helicopters and fixed-wing planes cannot.

Defense Tech first came across this work-in progress in 2009, when Urban Aeronautics Ltd. of Israel was preparing to demonstrate flight tests using a smaller, electrically-driven model to validate the basic technology. It now has a full-scale version being put through its paces.

Tactical Robotics Ltd., the UA subsidiary now handling development of the AirMule, says the vehicle will weigh 1,700 lbs, carry a payload of 1,400 pounds and fly at a maximum altitude of 12,000 feet. It will also make speeds of about 112 miles per hour.

The company says on its website that the UAV was designed to address lessons learned from its 2006 war in Lebanon as well as those learned by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of these is an urgent need to evacuate wounded personnel in situations where anti-aircraft fire poses too great a threat to helicopters, or from terrain where traditional helos cannot operate.

In addition to combat, the company is pitching AirMule – in particular a version it will manufacture as an ambulance – for homeland security, natural disaster and first responder missions.

About the Author

Bryant Jordan
Bryant Jordan is a reporter for Military.com. He can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BryantJordan.
  • Batou

    IF there is such a dire & urgent need to evacuate wounded personnel in situations where anti-aircraft fire poses too great a threat to helicopters, what happens to the wounded personnel ABOARD such unmanned aircraft if it gets shot down???

    I can understand ferrying supplies and munition but if the airspace is so contested that manned craft cannot be used to casvac the wounded – why would you send an UAC to pick up the injured just to have it downed?

    • JohnQ

      Where the soldier is badly injured, it may be worth the risk to the injured soldier to be flown through anti-aircraft fire because if he doesn’t get to a field hospital shortly, he’ll die anyway.

      • blight_qwerty

        But a soldier too badly injured might not be well enough to fly, let alone in an aircraft that’ll get shot up to hell. In some cases it may be worth rolling the dice, but I can’t guarantee being trapped in a burning UAV that was blown away with a missile is a pleasant way to go.

        On the plus side, keeping a few AirMules to do the busywork of flying VIP’s and supply missions keeps helicopter pilots available for other tasks.

      • Snidely

        http://www.urbanaero.com/category/airmule
        Interesting article. Answers a lot of objections.

    • Moonflower

      It sounds so human to rescue people. Getting your balls shot off with no pilot to fiddle around and land it, not so good.
      But flying in drinking waterfood or ammo when the shit has hit the fan…. Perfect idea.

    • Steve

      very simple , since its unmanned its smaller, might stand a better chance at getting out of the area without being hit
      in addition it can fly at a height a regular pilot might not be trained to fly in (not all pilots are from the 180th Special Operations Aviation Regiment )
      +
      the fact that if that person stays on the battlefield he will surely die , why not TRY and save his life by sending him back in one of the supply helos
      without endangering any other personal just for him

      • Riceball

        Just because it’s unmanned doesn’t mean that it flies by itself. Right now most so-called drone are actually remotely piloted meaning that someone is still flying in the bird, the difference is that they’re not actually sitting inside the bird they’re flying. So chances are that this mule would still be flown remotely by a human pilot, esp. for a mission as critical as medevac.

        My only problem with an RC or even true drone medevac would be the lack of medic/corpsman onboard. Unless you have someone onboard who can help stabilize the wounded this mule isn’t going to be much better than a Korean war medevac helo where they simply strapped the wounded to the side of the helo and flew them to the hospital with no one to work on them on the flight back.

    • Snidely

      If your Aunt had balls she’d be your Uncle. It’s always possible to hypothesize a situation where doing something is worse than doing nothing, but having a platoon of AirMules at the Battalion level would give the commander options he wouldn’t have otherwise.

  • Lawrence

    How slow can this thing get? I meant it’s speed, and it’s development process…. This is like an Israeli’s version of Muller flying car…. A 20 years long cycle of “It’ll be ready to fly in 2 years” PR spin…. God, Even the names sounded too much alike.

  • Tinto

    Well! you can say one thing, it’s flying before Lockheed’s new concept. Furthermore, I’m sure at much less of a budget.

    • david

      And I’m sure either the American or German taxpayer is once again footing the bill.

  • oblatt22

    When its can do anything well they always say its good for small supply runs and casualty evacuation.

  • jffourquet

    Want to bet US tax dollars paid for this and Isreal will sell it at profit without return some of that profit to the US?

  • Dfens

    There’s no room to carry anything. All the internal space is taken up by duct work for the lift fans or space for the engines. What a stupid design!

  • rtsy

    The non-military apps for this thing make more sense than anything else unless you’re going to incorporate stealth systems and only fly it at night.

  • stephen russell

    Hope we can produce some under lisc
    Apps for
    Medevac
    Recon
    Spec Ops
    Cargo alone in Field.

    & for defense, needs armor & non hackable flight controls alone.

  • Nick987654

    Among other roles, such a mule could be used to work in conjuction with the apaches with extra hellfires/APKWS. For that it would need mini-wings with hardpoints and a datalink.

    At 40 million a pop the apaches need as much firepower as possible.

  • Grin

    KMAX already exists and is American.

  • steve

    I see it’s time once again for Extremely Uninformed Opinions.

    Why would you use this to evacuate a troop instead of a helicopter?

    Because better to lose an injured soldier to ant-aircraft fire than a wounded soldier, helicopter, and aircrew.

    But, we have the K-MAX, why don’t they just use that?

    It may shock you, but, other countries have competent engineers, designers, and aircraft manufacturers of their own. Know how we say “Buy American”? Well, that doesn’t play well in other countries, go figure

    But, what about my personal feelings about the politics of Israel?

    Nobody cares, this is an article about an autonomous air vehicle.

    What about stealth technology and teaming it up with Apaches?

    Um, we’re trying to design a cargo mover that doesn’t need a pilot. We have other armed UAVs for that type of mission.

    The design is terrible, what if I think it’s poorly designed?

    Well, if you show us your certifications in aeronautical engineering and what aircraft you have designed, we’ll take that under advisement.

  • blight_qwerty

    I’m more excited at the prospects of doing away with rotor blades, though it means more internal volume consumed.

    • Dfens

      It doesn’t just take up “more internal volume” it takes up all of it. A quick glance at that picture shows you everything you need to know. Where are you going to put the wounded, strap them to the skids below the vehicle?

      • Formerly Skeptic

        Because that would be ridiculous, it would never work! http://olive-drab.com/od_medical_evac_helio_korea

        • Dfens

          Thanks for the timely information, Radar!

      • Mitch S.

        They claim 1400lb payload so there’s some margin to add volume to load stuff.
        I wonder how it handles a power loss situation. Seems unlikely to be able to auto rotate like a helo. Maybe a parachute as is available for light planes?

      • Riceball

        That’s only based on the picture that they used, even looking at the picture there looks like there might some roof towards the rear of the vehicle behind the lift fan. Regardless, the article does say that they’ve been testing a scaled down version of the actual mule and they’re now beginning to conduct tests using the full scale vehicle so it’s entirely possible that the picture is of the smaller test model and not the full sized version. It’s not like this site, and others, have been known to post either the wrong picture or, at other times, a stock photo of whatever the article is about that is not necessarily the exact thing being discussed in the article.

  • Dfens

    If this is the best Israel can produce, they’d better start practicing bowing to Allah now.