Currently, the U.S. is testing a large number of experimental aircraft of all kinds and recently became aware of the existence of another unusual experimental UAV. A previously unknown drone of a distinctive kind with special capabilities was seen at one of the main research sites. Official data about it has not yet been published, but the public has already revealed some interesting details.
A few days ago, the famous aviation photographer Jack Bayer published a number of photos of an unusual aircraft taken at the Mojave Air and Space Port airfield. Due to not the best weather conditions, the images are not of high quality, but allow you to determine the approximate appearance of the imprinted product and, at least, its class.
The aircraft was brought to an open area and carried out some work. Upon completion, the car was towed to a hangar. It is not known what research is currently being carried out and what the purpose of the filmed access to the site was.
Soon a new photo of the experimental UAV appeared on Reddit. It better shows the basic features of the design and individual units. In addition, the registration number is clearly visible – this opens up opportunities for obtaining new information. However, the most interesting information is still unknown and it is not possible to determine them by photos.
The experienced UAV has the registration number N871YT. This number is registered to Toyota Motor Engineering and Mfg America. The relevant certificate was issued on July 29, 2019, and is valid until July 31, 2022.
The keels of the device have the emblem of one of Toyota’s promising projects, the Project Portal program. Work on it started a few years ago, their goal is to form the development of trucks with an electric propulsion system based on hydrogen fuel cells.
In the context of an unknown UAV, recent news was recalled. In mid-January, Toyota announced that it was working with U.S. firm Joby Aviation. The latter is one of the leaders of the direction of electric vertical takeoff devices (eVTOL), and a new model of this kind is planned to be created together with foreign colleagues. Toyota acts as an investor and also plans to provide some necessary technology. At the same time, the main design work falls on Joby.
The two companies plan to create promising equipment such as eVTOL, suitable for commercial operation. Such aircraft may be the solution to urban mobility problems in the future. A real revolution in transportation is expected. However, the development of this direction will be difficult, long and expensive. Thus, in accordance with the latest agreement, Toyota will invest more than $390 million in the joint project. The deadlines for completion of the work have not yet been specified.
The main version
All available data indicate that the Mojave airfield has begun testing of an experienced UAV jointly developed by Toyota and Joby. Despite the recent signing of a joint work contract on eVTOL, the companies have already managed to build and test the first experimental device.
It can be assumed that the platform and the main elements of the power plant were developed by aircraft builders from Joby. These products were supplemented by power plants and other components created at Toyota as part of the Portal project. Thus, the exchange of technologies and the sharing of them have already begun.
Apparently, the real cooperation between the two companies began long before the signing of the formal agreement. That is why only a few weeks have passed from the contract to the tests. At the same time, the project participants do not confirm any of the existing assumptions, and therefore it is not clear exactly what is happening. However, much is clear and without official confirmation.
Experimental UAVs of unclear purpose and unknown names differ in character design and specific appearance. At its core, it is a multicopter helicopter with an electric propulsion system. In this form, the device is quite capable of serving as a technology demonstrator and a stand for technical solutions.
The UAV glider has an unusual design. It has a low fuselage of the elliptical section and a limited length. Two wings of large length and a small width are attached to the front and rear of the fuselage. The rear wing swing is bigger. Between the wings are four longitudinal gondolas of a small cross-section. Central gondolas form tail beams on which keels are placed.
The power plant includes five electric motors of unknown type and power. One is located in the bow of the fuselage, the other four are in the side gondolas. The screw-motor groups are placed with a forward-and-back shift to ensure optimal balancing.
Under the bottom of the fuselage are fixed four curved racks of the chassis. Between them are suspended some blocks of unclear purpose. You can talk with the same probability about both the payload simulator and the fuel cells from Project Portal.
Due to its specific role, UAVs do not need particularly sophisticated controls. To pass the tests of the power plant, it needs a remote control system and controls the operation of units. All flights can be carried out by commands from the ground. However, in the future, there are possible new tests with autonomous work, which will require different BREO.
The weight of the drone does not exceed 5.6-5.7 tons. To evaluate them, you need to know the basic parameters of the power plant. It can be recalled that the early experimental cars with hydrogen fuel cells of the Portal project developed the capacity of 670 hp. different characteristics.
Judging by the design, the unnamed UAV is able to carry out vertical takeoff and landing, hang and make a horizontal flight in any direction. Perhaps a large device is able to lift some payload on the external suspension. More is not required from it – the device is an experimental platform for testing and development of new technologies in the energy sector.
As part of its Project Portal, Toyota has already developed and tested hydrogen fuel cells, current conversion vehicles, control systems and electric motors. There have been very remarkable results in the context of road transport. The first trucks with an unusual power plant have already entered into operation.
At the same time, Toyota, in collaboration with Joby Aviation, has begun adapting existing developments to the requirements of small aviation. So far, we are talking only about an experienced UAV with very limited capabilities, which probably has not even taken off yet. Flight tests are due to begin in the near future, and after that the authors of the project will be able to draw the first conclusions.
At the moment, the main task of the joint project Toyota and Joby is the general verification of new units and the accumulation of experience. After that, the two companies plan to start developing light aircraft suitable for commercial use. How successful will be such machines and whether they will be able to find a place in transportation – it remains to be seen. It is clear, however, that the prospects for this project are directly dependent on the current work.