Parafoil UAV Selected for Phase 2 of Royal Navy UAS Heavy-Lift Challenge

Animal Dynamics’ Stork STM is a parafoil heavy-lift UAV capable of flying up to 400km with a 135kg payload By DA Staff / 22 Mar 2023
A concept image of the Stork STM on the deck of HMS Prince of Wales
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Specialist developer of autonomous heavy-lift Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) Animal Dynamics, has been selected to participate in the next phase of the Royal Navy’s Uncrewed Aerial Systems Heavy Lift Challenge (UASHLC) with its Stork STM parafoil UAV.

A side profile of the Stork STM
Credit: Animal Dynamics

The Stork STM is an autonomous aerial logistics system that can conduct Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) operations carrying payloads weighing 135kg over a 400km distance.

This payload capacity was specifically chosen as it is an optimum weight to resupply an eight-person section for a two-day period.

UASHLC Phase 2 is a joint effort between Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S)’s Future Capability Group and the Royal Navy’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer and 700X Naval Air Squadron. It aims to explore potential use cases for unmanned technologies to deliver supplies and equipment intra-theater (ship-to-ship) and inter-theater (ship-to-shore and vice versa), which would free up crewed assets like helicopters to perform more specialist tasks. The ability to carry a 135kg payload up to 400km makes Stork STM unique in meeting the Royal Navy’s requirements for both intra- and inter-theater resupply tasks.

Animal Dynamics successfully demonstrated Stork STM’s ability to carry significant payloads over a large distance as part of a pre-selection flying competition that took place in 2022. Despite strong competition from a number of world-class UAV providers, the Stork STM scored highly and was awarded a coveted place on the UASHLC. The Stork STM will now continue to the next round of UASHLC testing, with flight trials planned to take place in Cornwall.

As part of UASHLC, Animal Dynamics will also be marinising the Stork STM by integrating secure Satellite Communications (SATCOM) that enable the vehicle to be operated anywhere in the world. The Stork STM will also be fitted with a sonobuoy dispenser – showcasing that the UAV’s payload space can be used for a number of mission types – as well as go through additional wing development work that includes a retraction capability to make it safe for deck operations.

According to Animal Dynamics, the Stork STM’s parafoil design overcomes many of the challenges associated with heavy-lift multirotor and hybrid VTOL designs, which are often range limited due to the need for significant power during take-off and landing. Unlike some traditional fixed-wing aircraft, the Stork STM can take-off and land in short distances on unprepared ground.

A developmental Stork test vehicle going through flight trials
A developmental Stork test vehicle going through flight trials (credit: Animal Dynamics)

“We are very excited to have won a place in the UASHLC through our performance in the fly-offs against strong competition from established UAV and aerospace companies,” said Adrian Thomas, CEO, Animal Dynamics. “Selection by the UK Ministry of Defence and the Royal Navy reflects the fantastic capabilities the Stork STM has to offer, and the strength and experience of the team in terms of engineering, flight ops and certification. We look forward to the next stage of flight trials when we can demonstrate the continuing performance and capability enhancements of the Stork STM and the clear path to commercialization.”

“Our success in being selected for the next phase of the UASHLC has validated that our design concept can meet challenging customer requirements at a live demo,” said Chris Roberts, Head of Engineering Operations, Animal Dynamics. “Our operations team relished the opportunity to conduct a live demo, during which the Stork STM performed fantastically, showing to the MoD the potential that our technology could play in naval resupply roles.”

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