Insitu on Monday introduced a new capability for its Integrator unmanned aircraft system (UAS) that allows the drone to take-off vertically, requiring a smaller operational footprint for launch and recovery without compromising the long-endurance, high-payload capacity benefits the fixed-wing aircraft provides current and potential customers.

The Integrator VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) system package is enabled by an actual VTOL UAS provided by partner Hood Technology Corp. used in the launch and recovery of the Insitu aircraft. Insitu is a Boeing [BA] company.

Some companies have integrated VTOL kits into their fixed-wing UAS but that requires a developer to either sacrifice size, weight and power on their aircraft or develop a larger platform to maintain existing capabilities, Justin Pearce, vice president of engineering at Insitu, told Defense Daily ahead of Insitu’s announcement.

Insitu chose to “decouple” that actual integration of a VTOL kit into the Integrator with “very minimal impact” to the long-endurance, fixed-wing flight, Pearce said.

Integrator has an endurance that exceeds 24 hours, a maximum take-off weight of 165 pounds and a 40-pound payload capacity.

Insitu fixed-wing UAS have more than 1,000 flights with Hood Tech’s FLARES launch and recovery system for a UAS. In July 2022, the Integrator was demonstrated with the FLARES system at sea aboard the Navy’s USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60) Arleigh Burke-class destroyer for maritime search and rescue.

For the Integrator VTOL, the FLARES system includes a large multirotor VTOL USA that essentially straddles the fixed-wing aircraft and lifts it, then begins forward flight to launch the Integrator.

Traditionally, the Integrator is sent skyward using a pneumatic launch system and is retrieved via the company’s Skyhook, which entails the aircraft flying into a cable that is suspended from a crane to catch the wing and terminate the flight.

To recover the Integrator with the FLARES system, the large VTOL UAS that launched the fixed-wing drone takes-off with an attached cable and hovers above the flight deck until the Integrator flies into rope. Once the fixed-wing aircraft has been snagged, the VTOL UAS lowers the aircraft to the surface.

In addition to maintaining the benefits of a fixed-wing UAS and the smaller launch and recovery footprint that the FLARES system affords, Pearce said Insitu believes that Integrator VTOL will be able to be recovered in more challenging sea states than the Skyhook system allows because the heaving and pitching of a ship’s deck will matter less.

“From the work that we’ve done, and our experience aboard ships, we have high confidence in the ability for this to expand the sea states that ships are going to be able to operate UAS off,” he said.

There is demand for long-endurance, high-capacity, high-rate capability Group 3 UAS, Pearce said. Integrator is a modular, open architecture aircraft that “numerous payloads” have been integrated with, so the VTOL variant is ready to meet any customer’s requirements quickly, he said.