Tucked behind the familiar mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles and armored cars of the IndoDefence trade fair in Jakarta was a drone that appeared to be as much empty space as vehicle. Its polygonic body, a series of trapezoidal forms held together in a vaguely wedge-shaped formation, had three circular holes clean through it, as well as a long, narrow rectangular gap. The disks-shaped gaps hold rotors, the rectangular space built to clear the exhaust of a jet engine.
Made by NorthSeaDrones, the Naval Vertical Landing Jet Drone Project is an eye-catching entry into that most difficult of spaces: an aircraft that can land with the ease of a helicopter and quadcopter, but fly through the sky with the support and efficiency of a fixed-wing jet.
The drone is about 6.5 feet long by 6.5 feet wide, with a maximum takeoff weight of around 55 pounds. With a maximum speed over 215 mph and a cruising speed of 155 mph, the drone is designed to carry a 3-pound payload wherever needed within a 30-mile radius before returning home. That light payload suggests sensors more than weapons, as does other material from the company: as presently designed, the drone is for “surveillance/reconnaissance and targeting missions.”
Facilitating that flight is the ability to land vertically, gently lowered from the air by three rotors and a jet turbine that can swivel 90 degrees. The craft is more of a short take-off and vertical landing vehicle than a true VTOL, starting from a catapult launch and then, once the fuel load has been depleted in flight, coming in for a vertical landing. The drone is listed as having a maximum hovering time of two minutes, which indicates the time of descent after a mission.
There is much left to see from this drone design. (The manufacturers, perhaps not anticipating the way weird drones light up interest, seemed surprised by the sudden interest in this strangely rotored and jet-powered wedge.) At a minimum, it likely needs a clearer, catchier name than Naval Vertical Landing Jet Drone Project, or NVLJDP. More substantially, though, it’s easy to see the scenarios where this drone or drones inspired by it become an asset.
The thin body and relatively compact dimensions suggest the drone could be stored stacked on board a ship, and the short takeoff plus vertical landing means any ship or boat with a catapult and a landing pad could potentially launch its own scout. The Navy is already looking at a tail-sitting scout drone to look over the horizon; if the STOVL wedge of NorthSeaDrones’ craft can do the same or similar, it already has a niche carved out for it.
This story has been updated to reflect the vehicle’s STOVL, rather than VTOL, capabilities.
Kelsey Atherton blogs about military technology for C4ISRNET, Fifth Domain, Defense News, and Military Times. He previously wrote for Popular Science, and also created, solicited, and edited content for a group blog on political science fiction and international security.