Largest Quadcopter Drone Takes Flight

| Aerospace Testing

The Giant Foamboard Quadcopter held aloft by some of the researchers and undergraduates who worked on the project

Last year, Engineers at The University of Manchester built and flew the world’s largest quadcopter drone.

Made from foamboard, it measures 6.4m corner to corner and weighs 24.5kg – 0.5kg less than the weight limit set by the Civil Aviation Authority.

The innovative design of the drone, dubbed the Giant Foamboard Quadcopter (GFQ), means it is unlike any other in existence. The four arms are formed of a series of hollow box structures and can be easily removed for transportation.

The project started as a curiosity-driven venture to inspire students’ creativity in design by utilising a suitable alternative low-cost material for lightweight aerospace structures that is more environmentally friendly than the usual carbon fibre.

Unlike carbon fibre, low-density sheet materials can be highly recyclable, or even compostable. The researchers hope this demonstration will inspire the next generation of designers to think about sustainability from a completely new perspective.

Whilst this drone was developed purely as a proof-of-concept exercise, future iterations of this vehicle type could be designed to carry large payloads over short distances or used as a drone ‘mothership’ in air-to-air docking experiments.

GFQ is powered by four electric motors running off a 50-volt battery pack. It also has an on-board flight control system and can fly autonomously. The first flight took place earlier this year inside the main hangar at the Snowdonia Aerospace Centre where teams from various universities around the UK come together to demonstrate their latest research tech and brainstorm innovation.

The project builds on the previous success of an equally large fixed-wing foamboard aircraft in 2022. Following this, a student society was created at the University specifically to focus on developing lightweight, large scale foamboard Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).

Over the last year, a team of undergraduates helped build and test various critical sub-components of the structure.

Bill Crowther, a Professor of Aerospace Engineering at The University of Manchester, said: “Working with foamboard provides a unique learning opportunity for students to experiment with innovative structural designs. Although the material is strong for its weight, it requires significant engineering skill to exploit its structural potential. Ultimately, with this design you are holding up 25kg of aircraft with just a few strategically placed pieces of paper – that’s the art of the possible.”

Jonathan Newell
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