DronEx: testing drones in extreme environmental conditions

© Eurac Research/Annelie Bortolotti

Environmental conditions have a great influence on aircraft performance. Thrust reduction with altitude and temperature increase is a well-known problem in the aviation industry. For commercial multirotor (UAVs) a systematic approach on performance varying environmental conditions is still an open research field.

Many of the existing applications designed for UAVs (e.g. precision agriculture, delivery of instruments or medical supplies) have not been fully exploited by the market so far. This is due to the lack of existing knowledge about flight under variable weather conditions. A bias in the existing tests has been the non-reproducibility of the same climatic conditions.

The  UAV  industry  has  recently  started  to  perform  environmental test and provide information to the end users, revealing growing  interest  in  a  more  systematic approach to quantify performance according to weather conditions. Flight tests in a climate-controlled facility would give potential to improve UAV operations.

In  the  past  automotive  facilities  were  exploited  giving potential  to  perform  flight  test  inside  a  wide-temperature-controlled  area: no  standards  for  UAV  testing  were  defined  and  activities  were  limited  to  the  effect  of  wind  and temperature.  Pressure  influence  on  rotor  and  overall  UAV performance  still  remain  unexplored  due  to  lacks  of  dedicated  hypobaric  infrastructures.  Automotive  climatic  wind tunnels  are  not  suitable  for  these  purposes  as  not  designed for low pressure conditions; hypobaric medical facilities do not provide a wide area for flight tests. In the next few years, dedicated environmental facilities will play a crucial role for UAV industry development.