Removing wounded soldiers from the battlefield has always been a dangerous proposition, not just for the wounded but for the Medevac team as well. So instead of sending more soldiers into harm's way, one Israeli aeronautic company wants to whisk the wounded away aboard a UAV.
The AirMule, as its called by its creator, Dr. Rafi Yoeli, CEO of Urban Aeronautics, is a VTOL UAV measuring 20 feet long, over 6 feet wide, and weighing one ton. It rides atop a pair of ducted fans powered by a Turbomeca Ariel jet engine—similar to Germany's "flying Jeep" concept from the 1950's. The AirMule is directed and controlled via via a series of 200 directional air flaps and can fly both remotely or autonomously while carrying up to 880 pounds of cargo.
The AirMule's fully-ducted fans make it unique among UAV's. Since the rotors are protected from obstacles and debris, the AirMule will be able to easily and safely operate within urban environments—something that neither traditional propeller or rotor-driven UAVs can do.
Development on the AirMule began in 2007 with a primary emphasis on developing a platform capable of quickly extracting wounded from the battlefield. Since its maiden voyage in 2009, the AirMule has logged dozens of hours of flight time—both tethered and untethered. It has also completed several completely autonomous runs in which the UAV lifts off, flies to a designated point, then returns and lands.
"We're now able to land and take off from any point", says Dr. Rafi Yoeli, company CEO told Israel Defense. "For the first time this lets us evacuate wounded from almost anywhere. Our UAV, carries a gross weight of close to 400 kilos". The company hopes to finalize the AirMule's commercial development within the next few years, however, the platform has yet to prove that it can safely carry human cargo.
Still, the prospect of self-guided aerial extraction is exciting and not just from a military standpoint. The civilian applications range from high rise fire rescues, urban and coastal SAR, urgent medevacs—anything that we rely on helicopters today for could potentially be performed by an ducted-fan VTOL. [Defense Update - Israel Defense - Flight Global]