United Aircraft displays unmanned helicopter fit to fly in Himalayas

Designed to brave thin air, TD550 is able to carry out emergency rescue missions and deliver relief in areas inaccessible to traditional helicopters.

United Aircraft (联合飞机), a leading domestic producer of drones, autonomous helicopters, eVTOL aircraft and other aerial vehicles, showcased some of its latest innovations at an ongoing industry fair in Shanghai.

At the Yangtze River Delta International Emergency Disaster Reduction & Rescue Expo, which runs from May 8 through 10, the Beijing-headquartered company exhibited a number of its products, including its flagship autonomous helicopter.

The aircraft, named TD550, is a coaxial compound helicopter with a wingspan of 6.4m and a maximum takeoff weight of 550kg.

Designed to brave thin air, TD550 is able to carry out emergency rescue missions and deliver relief in areas inaccessible to traditional helicopters.

These attributes allow it to tackle the “last-mile” issue in aerial delivery when deployed to complex topographies such as plateaus.

With a capacity of 120 kg, it can take off from a height of 5,000m and soar to as high as 6,500m above sea level.

Photo courtesy of United Aircraft

Engineers from United Aircraft also built the aerial vehicle with a structure and hull capable of withstanding winds of force eight on the Beaufort scale.

Liu Fangguo, vice president of the company, said TD550 is equipped with a turbo-charger to generate sufficient power for it to cope with thin air.

Besides, the company’s self-developed flight control technologies help the aircraft to reach areas previously considered as “no-fly” zones.

“From snow-capped plains to sea island, from Gobi deserts to plateaus, TD550 can reach any corner of the nation except for Mt. Qomolangma,” Liu told Chinese media at the exhibition.

While it is the company’s aim to showcase TD550’s role in assisting with rescue operation and disaster relief, the helicopter’s main use case is to fight wildfires. Efforts are also underway to explore its application in urban fire-fighting.

In particular, to put out blazes that occur in high rises and are thus difficult for aerial ladders to reach, TD550 can be fitted with high-power water cannon to spray water on the fire while hovering mid-air.

From military to civilian use

Founded in a basement by a Beijing Institute of Technology alum, United Aircraft started out as a drone manufacturer that hit its first bucket of gold by tapping into military-use drones.

After 10 years of development, the company now has set sights on civilian applications, looking to branch out into areas like urban emergency response.

The transition has won the backing of equity financiers, with the firm receiving a whopping 2 billion yuan (US$289 million) in a Series D funding round in March this year.

It counts among its financial backers state venture capitalists such as China’s major manufacturing fund, Chengdu’s Qingyue Fund and Quantum Fund from Anhui.

In addition to TD550, United Aircraft also displayed an array of products at the Shanghai fair, including heavy-duty unmanned helicopter, multi-copter drone, on-the-ground mapping vehicle, mobile takeoff and landing platform, and more.

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Ni Tao

Ni Tao is the founder and editor-in-chief of cnrobopedia. Prior to cnrobopedia, he had a full decade of experience with a major state-run English-language newspaper as a tech reporter and opinion writer. He is also a communications specialist, having provided consultancy services to established firms like Siemens, Philips, ABinBev, Diageo, Trip.com Group (Nasdaq: TCOM, HK: 9961), Jianpu Technology (NYSE: JT) and a handful of domestic startups. A graduate of Fudan University, he writes widely about China's business and tech scenes and other topics for global publications including South China Morning Post, SupChina, The Diplomat, CGTN, Banking Technology, among others, and tries to impart his experience to students at Fudan University Journalism School, where he is a part-time lecturer. When he's not writing about robotics, you can expect him to be on his beloved Yanagisawa saxophones, trying to play some jazz riffs, often in vain and occasionally against the protests of an angry neighbor. Get in touch with him by dropping a line at nitao0927@gmail.com.

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