CSIR progressing with UAV developments


The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is getting ready for flight testing of its Long Endurance Modular Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (LEMU), which will take to the air before the end of the year.

The LEMU can be flown with multiple engine configurations, including petrol and electric. The petrol engine version will fly first.

There are three LEMU airframes: two with a configuration similar to the Modular UAV on which the LEMU is based (one petrol engine powered and one fitted with electric motors) and a single fuselage variant with either power plant. The CSIR has also considered hydrogen fuel cells as a power source for LEMU as they have a very high energy density and would provide a 12 hour endurance in addition to being quieter and more reliable than internal combustion.

At the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition outside Pretoria in September last year, Paramount announced a collaboration with the CSIR on UAVs, amongst others. This has seen it attain a license production agreement for the single-fuselage LEMU variant (S-LEMU), customised with Paramount sensors and avionics.

Reuben Ichikowitz, Executive, Special Projects at Paramount, said that collaboration is ongoing with the CSIR and that there are a lot of synergies across many areas, including sensors and landward sciences. Paramount has customer requirements to meet while the CSIR specialises in developing technology that can be used by Paramount and its clients.

United States company ArgenTech Solutions has shown interest in the LEMU. Discussions with ArgenTech Solutions over the certification and production of the LEMU have been underway since 2016.

The LEMU is powered by two engines, each with its own fuselage, in addition a health monitoring unit that will manage the power distribution and adjust the autopilot response in the event of an engine or power unit failure, reducing the chance of losing the airframe and payload due to an engine failure. This is critical since the payloads are typically very expensive in relation to the overall system cost, the CSIR said. The payload pod, with an optional integrated parachute, can be released from the airframe if necessary.

LEMU can meet a range of requirements in the civil market, from search and rescue (with the option to drop survival equipment) to border surveillance, large area LIDAR measurement of ground and vegetation cover etc.

The Internal Combustion variant of the LEMU has a take-off weight of 65 kg and payload of up to 20 kg excluding fuel. Maximum speed is 170 km/h and climb rate is over 700 feet/minute. Endurance would be up to eight hours dependent on payload. The Electric model has a top speed of 140 km/h and endurance of up to two hours depending on payload.

The LEMU is an extended range version of the original CSIR Modular UAV research platform, which first flew in 2009. A central hard-point on the wing provides the capability to mount custom-sized payload pods. All major aerodynamic control surfaces (ailerons, elevator, rudders) are replicated (exist on both sides of the twin boom configuration) introducing redundancy into the airframe.

Original funding for the Modular UAV was provided by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and managed by the Meraka institute of the CSIR.

The CSIR’s other flying UAV is the Indiza. It has been successfully tested in 50 km/h winds and on border safeguarding missions with the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), which is deploying it to the Democratic Republic of Congo for peacekeeping operations with the United Nations.

The Indiza is a hand-launched two metre span, rugged mini-UAV that can fly for over an hour at distances of up to 10 km using a brushless electric motor powered by a lithium battery pack. The Indiza airframe can house a number of generic camera pods, including day and night cameras. Various payloads up to 500 grams can be accommodated in Indiza’s modular payload bay. A laser ranging system is able to determine the UAV’s height above the ground and assists in the autonomous landing process – the camera is retracted upon landing.

Indiza’s ground-based equipment consists of a laptop with data link modems and optional tracking antenna system to extend the range and improve the communication quality of the video and data links. An optional radio control transmitter can be used for man-in-the-loop control of both the airframe and camera system.

The CSIR said Indiza can be used for surveillance activities such as border management and infrastructure monitoring as well as research and development projects.