New South African UAV unveiled for security and other missions

By Guy Martin

29.11. 2023

South African company Aquila Viour has designed and manufactured a rugged new unmanned helicopter for security and other missions.

The Alto unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was demonstrated at the recent DCD Protected Mobility demo day where it was fitted with Global Command and Control Technologies' Chaka command and control system and Rajant Corporation communications system as well as a camera, but it is payload agnostic and can accommodate a variety of payloads - the current version can carry 3 kg (the aircraft weighs 8 kg empty), but future versions will be able to carry 5 and 15 kg payloads ranging from electro-optical gimbals to synthetic aperture radar.

Optional equipment includes a terrain following sensor, laser radar (LIDAR), anti-jam GPS, ADS-B transponder and collision avoidance system.

Optional equipment includes a terrain following sensor, laser radar (LIDAR), anti-jam GPS, ADS-B transponder and collision avoidance system.

Aquila Viour (Eagle Eye) Director Leon Labuschagne told defenceWeb the Alto is designed to fit between low- and high-end UAVs and has lots of applications in the mining, police, private security and defence sectors, with one customer looking to use it for patrolling game reserves, and the SA Navy interested in using it at night for detecting divers and boats, for example. Other possible uses are stringing ropes across a river, delivering medical supplies, demining with a ground penetrating radar etc. The UAV can land on boats/ships, giving it a maritime application.

It can operate autonomously after receiving its flight plan or can patrol areas of interest. By using the latest advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, image processing and synthetic aperture radar techniques, targets can be located and identified in challenging environments, for example in dense bush or search and rescue over land and sea.

The Alto's airframe is made from carbon fibre and as such has been designed for harsh African conditions. A Japanese-built two stroke piston petrol engine was chosen as its power plant as this allows for longer endurance than electric motors - endurance is over two hours and range 15-20 km. Cruise speed is 54 km/h and maximum speed 90 km/h, with maximum altitude 3 000 metres. According to Aquila Viour, the Alto has favourable operating costs - R85 per hour compared to R140-150 for a comparable DJI UAV.

The company claims a noise level of below 90 decibels, making the Alto practically undetectable for sound and sight from the ground when flying at heights over 500 metres (noise can be reduced to 38 decibels with an optional muffler). As a true helicopter rather than a multicopter, Aquila Viour says it can operate in gale force wing up to eight on the Beaufort Wind Scale (62-74 km/h).

Aquila Viour was established last year, but the Alto has been in development for about five years. Manufacturing is taking place at the company's facilities at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Pretoria.

The Alto was in 2022 recognised by the Department of Trade and Industry as an innovation participant for applications in the fields of reconnaissance and surveillance.

Aviation Economy

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