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Insitu offers vertical take-off vehicle for Integrator

Insitu is offering a vertical take-off option for the Integrator (designated RQ-21 Blackjack by the US Navy) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), using a new vehicle to pull it into the air for launch.

The new vehicle is a sky crane, which uses four electric motors in an octorotor arrangement to lift Integrator vertically into the air before release.

The Integrator requires no modifications to be compatible with the sky cranes.

“If you're already [an] existing customer, this is a piece of kit that can make an Integrator [vertical take off]. And if you're a new customer, it's an option,” Justin Pierce, Insitu's vice-president of engineering, told Janes.

Previously, Integrator was only capable of launch via a pneumatic catapult, which required significant space and calm seas. The new system allows for take-off within a roughly 30×30 ft area and can lift off in rougher seas that would prohibit a catapult-launch.

The system is capable of lifting a fully fuelled and equipped Integrator, so the UAV's performance specifications are unaffected. Other UAVs have achieved similar vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capabilities by incorporating electric motors and vertical propellers into the airframe, adding weight that cuts down the vehicle's range or payload capacity.

The company demonstrated the system at land-based test facilities and during trials aboard USS Paul Hamilton in 2022.

Insitu has been working on the sky crane, which it calls the Flying Launch and Recovery System (FLARES), for several years, starting with a smaller vehicle to launch the company's smaller Scan Eagle UAV, Pierce said. Between Scan Eagle and Integrator, the sky crane has made over 1000 flights.

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