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Spanish police seize large drone used to carry drugs from Morocco (elpais.com)
234 points by shsachdev 3 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 170 comments





Its a mugin if anyone is interested (take the manufacturer specs with a handfull of salt) https://www.muginuav.com/product/mugin-5-pro-5000mm-super-la...

So manufacturer says MTOW is 90kg, which likely means they barely got it in the air once at freezing temperatures on a very long tarmac strip. Max speed of 170 km/h would indicate that it's happy cruising at around 120-150 km/h. The place they found it in a barn is 170km away from the Morrocan coast around El Hoceima, so about two hours of flight including take-off and climb. Compared to a specified 7hr max flight time, they'd have to fill it up to about one third, so 9 liters of fuel, or 7kg.

An empty weight of 25kg and 7kg of fuel gives us rougly 32kg of empty take-off mass, and you then could load it up with not-quite 50kg of payload. Significant, but a far cry from the 150kg that was reported.


Unfortunately, the 26.5kg empty weight they specify is the bare airframe. That means it excludes the engine, VTOL powertrain (motors + escs + props), general wiring/electronics and VTOL batteries.

Their quoted "25kg" payload is likely about right for a shorter flight.


This is running on gas, not electric. Their suggested config includes 27 liters of fuel.

Interesting! I was confused by the electric vertical motors in the news story's image... but it looks like the main engine is fuel powered, and an alternator powers the electric motors: https://www.muginuav.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Mugin-60...

Yeah, likely. I'd still be confident that it can cross the mediterranean away from the Strait of Gibraltar. But maybe the overpromising is why they found it in a barn in mint condition, and not in the air.

I suppose drones could be a backup plan if the authorities ever manage to get a grip on shipping.

Definitely given enough fuel and decent weather.

90kg is in VTOL mode, it doesn't have wheels for a rolling takeoff

From the motor mounts, it looks more like the discontinued Mugin 4450: https://muginuav.en.made-in-china.com/product/OwqxNGpVLHco/C...

In British English 'mug[g]ins' is a fool being taken advantage of.

only 12k? I want one!

$12k for the airframe. Each engine (4x) is another $8k. I wouldn't be surprised if the out-the-door cost of the airframe, engines, avionics and controls surpasses $50k.

Actually, from their website it looks like there is a bundle package[1] of the necessary guts that brings the full price to about 20k.

1. https://www.muginuav.com/product/power-package-for-mugin-445...


I wonder what they're using as a flight controller? Is it linked to the ground (via cellular or similar) during the whole flight? Or autonomous for part of it?

EDIT: Looks like their ARTF electric version uses the Ardupilot CUAV V2+ - https://ardupilot.org/copter/docs/common-cuav-v5plus-overvie...

I can't find any information on the data link, that they call: "Sprintlink Pro Data link & Video Link". So not sure if this uses cellular networks, or something else during flight. Hybrid products definitely exist: https://www.skyhopper.biz/products/communication-data-links-...

EDIT 2: The ARTF version is wild. For under $20K - you can just buy a drone that can deliver a 3kg package (6.6lbs) anywhere within about a 100 mile range. https://www.muginuav.com/product/mugin-ev350-full-electric-v...

Besides "last mile shipping" and smuggling implications, I'm trying to think of how this could be useful today. Maybe some kind of search and rescue where someone activates a personal locator beacon, and you could send them supplies before you could reach them? A little under a gallon of water?

IDK, seems like a stretch. But I feel like there has to be more practical implications.


I looked up the cost of Warmates and they are also around $20k. Considering APKWS has existed for much longer and has a higher explosive yield and range and the fact that an Apache can carry a whole rocket killer swarm of 38 APKWS I honestly don't see how "slaughter bots" are supposed to be a threat when drones are that expensive.

The myth that drones are cheap should die. Crappy plastic toys with flight times measured in minutes are cheap. The real deal is just as expensive as everything else.


Things become cheap if they are mass-produced.

Most current drones are highly custom, like cars in 1900. They can be much cheaper once a "Ford T" of drone tech emerges.


Interesting and timely article about those crappy plastic toys... https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidhambling/2021/07/21/israel...

Just wait till you learn how expensive actual aircraft are.

Yeah I was surprised by that figure too

Seems it's only the airframe though and maybe the fuel tank.

VTOL motors, alternator, engine, props, control system etc. are all extra.


That’s just empty airframe without any electronics or engine.

I spend about 1/3rd of the year each year in Spain and an "interesting" development related to drug trades is happening here: basically lots of people realized cannabis plants were flowering as well, if not better, in Spain than in Morocco.

The EU / Spanish polices also got apparently much better at intercepting cannabis dealers trying to pass from Morocco to Spain (hence maybe these new drones attempts).

So now there are both individuals and gangs (including gagns from Morocco and from eastern europe) growing a huge lot of weed in Spain. As in: it's becoming very big business.

Individuals have the right, legally, to grow up to two cannabis plants (I think two plants for one adult in the household is the rule and you can legally by flowering and auto-flowering cannabis seeds in shops). But quite some individuals are, illegally, growing much more than two plants as a way to meet months' ends.

Technically this delivery drone is impressive but dealers from Morocco have much bigger problems than trying to stuff ganja into drones without getting intercepted: growing cannabis plant and making hashish and ganja directly in Spain, at cheaper prices.


The article says they are smuggling cocain. I doubt cannabis would be profitable enough.

It's not just about the cost of the drone, it must be a serious undertaking for a gang to get a hand on one of those without anyone noticing. The thing is basically an ultra-light aircraft, and probably extremely illegal to operate anywhere in Europe or any sane jurisdiction...


Initially it says that the intended purpose was cocaine, but then it goes on to say that online marijuana and hashish were found.

It also doesn't say whether or not they actually had the drone in the air at all.

Maybe those guys just hatched a crazy-ass idea, financed it with their previous marijuana "business" but haven't so far gotten around to actually buying cocaine in Morocco, much less smuggling it with a drone...


Maybe it's a false flag op. The smugglers left a little something for the local agencies to find so they can do a nice bit of PR so the public feels good about it. Meanwhile, the smugglers continue using their normal trade routes.

This will also help spur more anti-drone legislation ruining for the rest of us that never intended to use drones in this manner.


Those drug dealers are pain in the ass. First they sell drugs to our children, and then go on to ruin our drone legislation. What the hell comes next?!

They'll ruin your submarine legislation if you're not careful

Standing up for your rights is what comes next. Refuse to follow stupid laws.

Bruce Simpson is an activist that consistently exposes New Zealand's government propaganda. https://youtu.be/UNUtYucJchk

I don't think there is any drone jurisdiction in the world where there would be a problem with such drones.

It's large enough that it will require extensive certification and permits both for the airframe and the pilot.


I think stupid-ass criminals is the more likely explanation...

Sounds like they need to form a co-op. Each member signs their 2 plants to the co-op to manage/grow/etc. Pay the members something for their "license use". I'm guessing there are plenty of people that would never attempt to grow those 2 plants on their own, so don't let it get wasted.

Also, limit the co-op to be run by citizens of that country/city to keep it from becoming international rings (bwahahahaha, as if that would work)


I think you just described the „Cannabis Social Clubs“ in Spain.

Personal use likely precludes the ability to transfer rights like this.

Individuals have the right, legally, to grow up to two cannabis plants...

I believe that's a misconception. There were a few loopholes, fixed by a recent law (three or four year ago IIRC) that nuked cannabis clubs.

I'd say it's mostly safe to grow one of those auto-flowering seeds in your balcony, providing you use some translucid plastic, but telling the police "I have the right to grow two plants" seems like a weak defense.


Cannabis clubs have not been "nuked"; I'm writing this comment from one of more than a thousand across the country. Also growing plants on your balcony is forbidden; they can't be visible from outside.

Spanish here, can confirm.

It’s a de facto rule, it’s up to a judge to decide whether a person had intention of trafficking when found in possession of narcotics, trafficking is the only criminal offence. It’s common believe that 2 plants are OK for personal use.

The Moroccan hash is not intended for Spain, but for the whole of the EU ( NL in particular ).

Yes of course... but it still (used to?) mostly transit through Spain, where it then is passed into France etc. Heavy drugs coming from south america do also transit through Spain.

I found back the article (in english) I read earlier this year on the subject:

https://english.elpais.com/spanish_news/2021-02-03/spain-and...


The EU and perhaps NL in particular should really take another look at legalizing at least hash.

It would help to also legalize cocaine, but even Colombia that would benefit most from it, is still not ready to do something to break the status quo.

https://transformdrugs.org/blog/historic-win-for-coca-cocain...


I'm all in for cocaine legalisation, but how do you make it safe? So much heart problems and overdoses that it's obviously would cause so much unnecessary deaths.

People die from cocaine even now when it's illegal. The question is if harm would increase due to legalisation. I think there is a good argument that harm could actually be reduced since quality and dose control would be much better. Treatment is also easier when those with substance use disorder are not seen as criminals.

Maybe if you sold in fairly limited doses in pharmacy by prescription at which point it would loose fun and create another market for aggregators/resellers. It's not like weed where it's impossible to OD (tho it can be very stressful).

People generally don't want to overdose. ODs happen when people are mistaken about the quality and purity of the product they get hold of. Legalisation would reduce the risks significantly.

Most issues are caused by concommittant alcohol use, since it makes cocaine metabolize into cocaethylene (ethylcocaine), which is both more addictive and much worse for the heart.

Quoth Wikipedia: Some studies suggest that consuming alcohol in combination with cocaine may be more cardiotoxic than cocaine and "it also carries an 18 to 25 fold increase over cocaine alone in risk of immediate death".


Interesting. That’s pretty much most popular combination.

Many Colombian people would agree to do this, many will look at you in bewilderment. The main issue is that too many people in government institutions are profiting from the status quo. Colombia itself has a rather massive drug use problem, or, the people of the younger generation are pretty open minded about consumption.

Yes the corruption makes it difficult to do much, but the War on Drugs has been going on for more than 50 years.

It's quite obvious that another 50 years will not do any difference, but the proposed bill just might.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_on_drugs


Like most wars it makes the powers that be very rich I guess

That's exactly why they want to keep the status-quo.

Any country that legalizes cocaine will get on the US sanctions shit list which would cost the Netherlands hundreds of billions per year. Also there would be massive drug tourism.

That is a pretty advanced design. It's hybrid gas/electric and the manufacturing looks excellent as well. I was expecting something patched together along the lines of the semi-submersibles that we have previously been shown.

On another note, I really don't see that thing carrying 150kg (330lbs) of useful payload. That would be an aerodynamic marvel for forward flight, and there is just no way those 4 electric motors can support vertical flight with a 150kg payload.

I am just an r/c hobbyist and would love to know if I am off on the payload somehow.


It's a Mugin - https://www.muginuav.com/product/mugin-6000mm-extra-large-hu...

Payload is "25kg" and that's probably optimistic.


Even if it could "only" safely carry 20kg, that's still around €100,000-€150,000 at the street. I could see how this method could be very profitable.

Where can i buy 25kg of cocain for 100 000€?

Sorry, I should have specifically mentioned hashish.

I wonder what the radar cross section on this thing is? It's going to be at least comparable to that of a small light aircraft – which are easily detected by primary radar. I think flying this across the med with no flight plan, no transponder, and no legitimate paperwork would be a very good opportunity to get it filmed extensively in-air for free by a friendly European airforce. Quite possibly including an explosive and quick landing, too!

The dry weight of the [steel/aluminium] engine for a Cessna 172R (117kg) is about four times the dry weight of the entire recommended setup for a Mugin-5 Pro, and the airframe of this UAV is carbon fiber. Some of its steel/aluminium fittings/fixtures that need to handle high stresses look like they would be difficult to replace with low-radar-cs materials, and there is a fair amount of avionics dotted around plus the four VTOL motors, but it's a really paltry amount of radar-reflective material compared to the average light aircraft, and I'm sure you could mitigate that somewhat with radar-absorbent materials/structures.

The idea of relying on fighter jets/attack helicopters/SAM systems shooting these things down sounds like an entirely asymmetric and unsustainable state of affairs.


Reading the article I thought they should have started in VTOL mode somewhere near the cost, then dive down onto the sea and fly like a https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ground-effect_vehicle over the mediterran, climbing up at the other coast and again land in VTOL mode. Now I know ground effect vehicles are a lost art, but I would think collision avoidance and evasion would be simpler to implement by computer vision on-board, while operating autonomously between waypoints and without remote control.

edit: something like this

[0] https://hackaday.com/2021/05/24/ground-effect-drone-flies-au...


I imagine cartels have no problem flying lower than the legal minimum altitude (difficult to track because of ground clutter).

Yeah, I'd bet that'd fly perfectly safely at 10m altitude for all of the 200-ish km sea crossing between Morocco and Spain. Set a waypoint a few hundred meters off shore at the destination end and have it climb high enough to be difficult to hear at ground level, without ever looking on radar like it'd come from that far south.

Wonder when we'll start seeing private smuggling drones made with radar reducing geometries.

Narco submarines are already getting quite sophisticated:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narco-submarine

No doubt this will happen to drones too.


The Yakuza have been using drones for short distance drug couriering for a number of years now.

Practically speaking, for the uses they're going to put this drone to, silencing its two-stroke engine is infinitely more important than doing something about its radar signature.

Why? Over land? Just another lawnmover buzzing. At sea? Skim the waves.

Lawnmowers tend not to fly overhead. Bound to raise a few suspicions.

The article mentions it does show up on radar. But it also depends on the altitude it's flying at.

The friendly European airforce must have been sleeping because the article never mentions any attempted investigations or interceptions by the same. I imagine just like the US in 9-11, they'd be caught with their pants down if terrorists actually tried to use a fleet of these things.


It may never have flown of course.

But here in Europe they usually have only secondary radar active afaik.


Three things. First, the distance between a likely launch site in Morocco and a national park in Spain is less than ten miles. Second, the rated top speed of the thing is over a mile a minute. Third, you're talking about the Spanish Air Force, in southern Spain, in peacetime, not the Israeli Air Force or something.

I imagine it's always going to be police doing police work that catch these guys, as happened in this case, and not jet fighters.


I'd expect the British have a better view on it, as on Gibraltar they have quite an extensive military presence. After Brexit though, I'd imagine if it's not coming towards them, they aren't going to do or say much.

Am I completely off-base in thinking almost everything about a submersible drone is a better idea? No radar signature, much bigger haulage, can idle in location for much longer when needed, and presumably supports somewhat surreptitious unloading at sea if needed?

The Straits of Gibraltar has a strong net inflow current, which might make drone submersibles a bit prone to getting lost.

Also, the prior art for smuggling across the straits were fast launches which would bump upon to beaches and be quickly disgorged. This means that the Guardia Civil take a lot of interest in what happens along the coast.

Also, let it be said that the coast up East from Gibraltar is very much not as empty as it is from Algeciras Westwards, with a lot of development on the Costa del Sol. Makes it hard to have slower than launches/ribs submarines do their thing.


> The Straits of Gibraltar has a strong net inflow current

Just a fun fact, I heard that during WWII most of the U-boats that made it through the Strait of Gibraltar never made it out. A combination of being sunk and not having powerful enough engines to make it back out.


Does that mean the Mediterranean is filling up like a bathtub?

A bathtub that significantly evaporates over its suface, yes, sort of.

- ed. Less bubbles.


From a documentary I watched something like this is one of the preferred techniques for the Colombian cartels now. It's called the torpedo technique.

They design torpedo style units that get towed behind a fishing boat or such. At a desired location they detach it, and it just loiters below the surface. At some pre-arranged time it pops up to the surface and activates a radio beacon, so that a pickup ship can snag it.

It's less complicated than building an autonomous AUV, and far less likely to be spotted by arial surveillance than a narcosub. Lower capacity but still very lucrative I imagine. And very nearly risk free.


These narco-submersibles have a much higher entry cost, apparently. And you'd probably need something a few meters long, just to house the motor necessary to fight the currents.

The drone was apparently off the shelves. And the police didn't say if they ever actually got it into the air at all.


There is not a large industry of hobby submarine drones you can leverage - much more technical skill and effort would be needed.


Radio communication is made more difficult by being surrounded by water.

Not when trailing an antenna snorkel-like, lifted up by a tiny buoy.

It is extremely likely that the Spanish Navy or Intelligence Agency has an whole array of underwater listening devices, due to the Strait of Gibraltar.

So if you're coming from Morocco with a homemade sub (probably woefully unoptimized for being quiet), I'm gonna assume that those listening will pick up your signature.


The sea is flat and you can see a long way. Radar can see a long way. These people could choose a landing spot in a hilly area with few people and many roads, where few people could see the drone land and they could unload, drive off and mingle with traffic after only a few minutes' driving.

Maybe the drone could even finish charging unattended and take off to fly back to Morocco.


They can do a battery swap while unloading and send it back immediately

The mugin package offers a charger option for the gas powered main motor

The main downsides will be that it has much more drag to fight against and also if you're actually underwater you can't just use GPS like you can in the air making navigation much harder.

The next interesting step for drug dealers will be last mile of delivery of product to customers.

Imagine coupling a Web app with a swarm of drones that can drop product on your back porch in a matter of minutes.

You can bet it's coming for illegal products.


I suppose it would have to take off for Pizza delivery before they become inconspicuous enough to make illegal deliveries. Like my sibling comments say, a delivery driver or bike courier is a lot stealthier than a drone for now.

The grey market (unlicensed) weed guys in Vancouver just use cars and ring the doorbell when they arrive.

In the summer, some of them have bikes...


Paralelni Polis released last year an interesting video of a drone based last mile transport system for their hydroponic lettuce, paid in cryptos

https://youtu.be/_vEJwD5lDTk


First they need to get Amazon delivering things via drone to acclimate everyone to the idea of drones buzzing around everywhere dropping things off. Post that, no one would blink an eye.

You really think all those delivery drivers driving brand new 2021 cars are only delivering food?

The police then gets a nice profitable side business involving the confiscation of $20k drones.

"The drug gang was flying the drone using an electronic system that relayed the exact takeoff and landing points, and used waypoints – i.e. places during the flight where it had to change course. It could also be flown using remote control." - Does that mean it was likely using GPS to follow a particular route?

Yes, it'll have a Pixhawk or similar in it running ArduPilot (or maybe PX4). Both open source (and ArduPilot is maintained by Tridge of Samba fame).

I just found one of the products mugin sells is this - https://www.muginuav.com/product/cuav-new-x7-pro-flight-cont... which mentions it can run ArduPilot firmware.

Yep, Mugin are reselling the majority of the stuff in their electronics category - they mostly make airframes AFAIK.

A Pixhawk Cube or similar is around the £250 mark.


Just guessing: A waypoint in a fairly lonely part of the Spanish coast, then a few points so the drone won't fly over cities on its way inland, finally a lonely spot to land.

>> In total, 30 kilograms of marijuana and 55 of hashish were found during the operations in Spain and France.

Yeah. A bit ambiguous. I guess the mention of cocaine was to improve the profile of the bust.


Interesting! :-)

But article makes no sense. They write about the drone used for smuggling cocaine because it is the most lucrative thing, but they found only a few dozen kg of marijuana and hashish each where it was stored?


This is a really good example of technology being used by criminals to circumvent law enforcement while putting the public at risk. While I personally think drug laws need to be updated, the more interesting discussion here is about creating technologies that can cause serious harm to the public and making them cheap and easy enough to be used by anyone with a small amount of financial backing and a strong insentive.

Is that really the interesting discussion here? It seems like the same ground journalists tread all the time when they want to waste a bunch of time opining on nothing. What's the alternative? Waste money on purpose? Make shittier user interfaces?

The interesting discussion to me is why governments are not doing more to decriminalize or legalize drugs.

That seems to be the only way out of this mess.


Have you ever watched Air America?

Not recently, did watch this one though

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Made_(film)

So many movies would not exist if drugs were made legal.


It's just marijuana and hashish in the payload. From Morocco, that's Bush and Rocky.

Too bad. Better luck next time.


The article mentions cocaine, which has a higher street value.

Yeah but not in relation to this seizure.

The police could intercept 90% of the drugs and the price of the remaining 10% would go so high that the smugglers would keep making billions. The police has a thankless never ending job until society's attitude changes.

> The drone can reach altitudes of 2,000 meters (around 7,000 feet), but in general would fly much lower in order to save fuel and avoid detection.

Fly lower to save fuel? How does that make sense?


> Fly lower to save fuel? How does that make sense?

Propellers like lower speeds and altitudes; fans like higher speeds and altitudes [1]. This is because propellers hit the air at the true air speed. Compressors in a turbofan modify the incident pressure and air speed, letting the engine purr away without concern for creating shock waves.

This is a propeller craft.

[1] https://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/handbooks_manuals/a...


From your link:

> Turboprop engines are most efficient at speeds between 250 and 400 mph and altitudes between 18,000 and 30,000 feet

Ignoring the detail that your source is talking about turboprop (so, turbine engine with a big fan attached) and not a small piston engine, that's still not low altitude. That's class A airspace!

Even in a piston aircraft, you have to adjust your mixture as you climb, right? You have to add _less_ fuel per unit of air. And there's still all the drag from the aircraft itself, it's not just about propellers.

Sure, I doubt this drone would have a turbocharger, so performance (or rather, horsepower) is expected to drop above 10000ft. But not efficiency.


Reducing the fuel/air mixture doesn't increase efficiency, yes you need less fuel per unit of air, but you need more units of air too.

The problem is the air gets thinner as you go higher, meaning you need to fly at higher speeds, which means you need to fight more drag. Really it's not flying at low altitude to save fuel, it's flying slow to save fuel.

Jet engines become more efficient at higher speeds which compensates for the increased drag, and thus jet aircraft fuel efficiency goes up at higher altitudes. Piston engines are unaffected by airspeed, so at higher speeds they are doing more work at the same engine efficiency. Thus the aircraft fuel efficiency goes down.


> you need to fly at higher speeds, which means you need to fight more drag

I could not find a non-technical source for this, thank for explaining well. In summary, drag increases quadratically with mass flow while thrust increases linearly to density. So a slower-turning prop in denser air moving the air frame slower keeps the frame aloft and works more efficiently than the same frame running higher and (necessarily) faster. The power plant (turboprop or piston prop) is independent of all this.


The distance that needs covering to fly from northern Morocco to Spain is just a few km... probably would be a waste of energy to get it to 2km altitude

Now that makes sense.

Probably mostly by not expending energy to climb and then descend.

Helicopter lift efficiency varies heavily with altitude, but how it varies depends on the weight of the helicopter. Heavy helicopters require quadratically more torque to hover at higher altitudes, but lightly-loaded helicopters can actually require less torque to hover at higher altitudes. Here's a (complicated but really cool) diagram to calculate on page 7, figure 7-6. https://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/handbooks_manuals/a...

Since electric motor current draw is approximately linearly proportional to their torque, heavy-lift electric helicopters/drones would almost certainly conserve energy by flying lower. I'm not sure how that applies to this drone, which probably weighs below the lowest line on that diagram, and also has more, smaller, higher-speed rotors.

This vehicle probably spend most time traveling as a fixed-wing aircraft, and for those, efficiency almost always increases with altitude. (Except that their combustion-powered engines may require compressors to continue operating at higher altitudes. This aircraft's ICE may actually suffer from this, if it is an inexpensive engine not designed for aircraft.) So if the statement is correct, it's probably referring to the energy saved by not having to climb in the first place.


Lifting 150kg 2km high is a lot of energy used up. Especially when you only need to cover what, a dozen kilometers horizontally?

Air being denser _perhaps_ means it doesn't have to hit top RPM for maintain altitude?

It wouldn't need to spin as fast, but more torque would be required to reach any given RPM.

The picture is rather deceptive, making the drone look huge compared to the men standing behind it. When you play the video you'll see it's not that big.

This is within the price range of a flying car (or to be clear, a flying coffin; it's pretty tight in there, and I doubt the safety).

I'd like a flying car!


Every time someone mentions flying cars, I wonder what they have in mind that a helicopter isn’t the answer to.

I remember helicopters for sale in Farnborough Air Show, probably 30 years ago now, the cheapest there cost about £100k. I assume inflation has quadrupled that, but I don’t follow that market and the stuff on eBay I am unqualified to gauge the quality of.


Helicopters never really "took off" so to speak, because apparently for every 1 hour of flight they need 4 hours of maintenance, amongst other issues.

Hmm. I am not even slightly a mechanic, but people do seem to say electric cars need less maintenance than ICE cars. Would electric helicopters (and not just quadcopters) “take off”? I do see a lot of news-or-press-releases about passenger drones, but I can’t tell how realistic any of them are.

Electric helicopters would be facing the same problem as electric planes - energy density. Right now fossil fuel energy density is still some 40 times greater than batteries and I don't think conventional batteries will ever come even close to matching it. There would have to be some radically new type of a battery, if such a thing is even possible.

That becomes relevant precisely when the the battery mass is a significant fraction of total mass; for long distance flights, this would clearly be the case because even hydrocarbons are barely sufficient density on the longest flights; for point-to-point within a single city, which is how I expect Average Jo to use one if they were safe & available at affordable rates, I expect it isn’t an issue.

Less maintenance for the engines and a few other systems. Just as much maintenance for other components. For instance, the rotor blades have to be replaced every X hours and can cost as much as a car, each.

I've never understood why flying cars should have lower needs for maintainence.

Mass production allows for more optimization than small production runs. Modern cars can go a long time with minimal maintenance, but it took a lot of R&D to reach that point.

The most successful small aircraft the Cessna 172 Skyhawk has averaged than 1,000 produced per year and runs ~400,000$ new. They could easily drop that to under 100k with modest levels of automation, but can’t justify automation with current levels of demand. Similarly only minimal levels of R&D is worth is at when the market is tiny.

It’s even worse in the Helicopter market. Presumably someone designing a flying car is going to take the R&D and automation risks assuming they will pay for themselves.


It's not even just the automation. There's so little demand that GA is really stuck in ancient standards.

I flew 172s for a while and I was really surprised how old most of the tech was. Built with rivets, engines still using leaded (or lead replacement) gas, still using manual mixture like an old car with a choke. Even the wired microphone in a modern (manufactured in the 2010s) C172 still has this ancient feel about it (not to mention that you couldn't use it anyway as the prop noise is way too loud to use a radio without headphones).

The instrumentation side definitely has caught up (like the Garmin G1000 glass cockpit) but the whole airframe + engine combo seems to come straight out of the 1950s. I imagine this adds to the cost as a lot of this tech is no longer mainstream so there's no economy of scale. You can see this in part costs too, and in the price and availability of AVGAS (some airports here really don't want to carry it anymore and if they do it's really expensive).

I've heard of C172s been retrofitted with modern turbodiesels with full FADEC but I really don't get why they don't come like this out of the factory these days. I did see that some of the lighting tech was upgraded though: The later ones did have LED beacons. But most of the tech was very old.


GA aircraft used to be way cheaper than they are now. Regulatory changes in the 80s (I think) shifted liability to the manufacturer in the event of an accident and everything got more expensive. It's not really fair to compare an uncertified UAV to a certified GA aircraft, because the electric aircraft is going to get a lot more expensive once you certify it for passengers.

I briefly worked with the FAA on their certification system and it’s surprisingly optimized for mass production. Which should be obvious as many aircraft components are needed in massive quantities even if the total number of commercial aircraft are quite limited. Aka the number of turbine blades is larger than the number of engines which is larger than the number of aircraft.

Unfortunately, this hits GA harder as they have vastly fewer components to worry about and small production runs are discouraged. That said, assuming flying cars are going to come from or limited to the US seems unlikely so the EASA also has a significant role.


I'd hate to see the amount of paperwork the FAA would require if you automated a Cessna production line.

With enough demand to produce 100k units per year, that would amortize well too.

But light aircraft are a hard thing to sell for really practical reasons. They have a lot of real world limitations for small overall improvements in performance vs ground travel.

This might be different for some air taxi services within metropolitan areas.


They used to be a lot cheaper. Regulatory changes made them much more expensive and reduced demand.

Most helicopters use jet engines. I think that is where a large part of the maintenance cost comes in. The rotor assembly is fairly complicated mechanically, but I don't know how often it needs to be serviced.

I think the pro-electric people are underestimating the maintenance requirements though, especially since anything flying has very conservative requirements put on it, so just saying "these electric motors will run fine for 10,000 hours" or something like that isn't going to cut it.


> Most helicopters use jet engines. I think that is where a large part of the maintenance cost comes in.

No, gas turbines are much more reliable, and cheaper to service than reciprocating engines.


It costs >$100k (potentially much more) per overhaul of a turbine engine. That's a lot more than it costs to overhaul a reciprocating engine (probably 10x more).

I agree that they are more reliable though (part of why most helicopters use them, since loss of the engine is much more serious problem than in planes)


> It costs >$100k (potentially much more) per overhaul of a turbine engine

Aircraft certified piston engines will reach that cost in overhauls much quicker than a turbine


That is just not true. You can google the cost of overhauling a Cessna engine, it's nowhere near 100k.

My understanding is that a "flying car" is pretty much just a lower-maintenance, easier-to-use, safer and less noisy helicopter. Any helicopter that doesn't have these properties wouldn't work as a flying car, but once (if) someone figures out how to do it, I guess it'll become a feature of other helicopter designs as well.

Running costs. I want to get point A to point B cheaply, in terms of both fuel and maintenance. Helicopters won't do that.

I’m a little skeptical of the claimed vertical take off capacity given the photos.

I think it's the total capacity that it carried over several flights. The journalist mixed the numbers up.

This drone looks similar and its manufacturer also claims VTOL and many hours' flight time: https://carbonix.com.au/

I don't need VToL. I need <30mph short runway take-off and landing, which is a lot easier.

I’m surprised that this doesn’t happen more often. With drone technologies advancing so fast, it was truly inevitable. The next step is just to use the right coat to become invisible to radars and you’re GTG. Unless that’s already happening and they are just getting away with that and we simply don’t know.

I'm 99% that sort of paint is very very "government secrets" by the US and doesn't get out much.

Now could someone make a drone shaped like an f-117 and make it invisible to civilian radar? probably. That sort of engineering is easy with todays technology.


That drone is basically an ultra-light aircraft, able to carry the weight of one or two (slim) adult humans.

Vertical takeoff and landing may be overkill for that use case. They could probably get away with Ardupilot and just crash the drone...

Fortunately, most people who are able to build such a drone (I think many drone-hobbyists could) are smart enough not to go into drug smuggling.


Well, ok, some people are casting doubts on the 150kg payload...

Can carry up to 150 kilos. Article doesn’t mention street value. I’ve no idea. If it’s cocaine, is that millions of dollars? This is Morocco though, so more likely hashish, which would be worth considerably less. How much though? Just trying to visualise cost of drone vs reward ratio.

Article does mention however that "it was being used for packages of narcotics, particularly cocaine".

https://www.statista.com/chart/18527/cocaine-retail-steet-pr... shows 67 USD per gram, which means that if you've got 150kg of cocaine on board, the street value is just over ten million USD.

I don't know how much of that would be profit, but seems quite likely there's an excellent cost vs reward ratio - potentially even so high that these drones could be used almost disposably if they are intercepted less frequently than boats.


As per votingprawn, it's 25kg at the absolute most (from the manufacturers website). If you're flying any distance, a lot less than that.

I think cartels started shipping cocaine to Morocco, and from there they smuggle it to Europe. It's much easier than to send it directly to the EU considering how porous the Gibraltar straight/maritime routes across the Mediterranean are and that there are tons of very well established routes and networks already used to smuggling tens of tons of hashish/weed.

Street value would be around 10€ per gram, so 1.500.000€

Sold in units of 1 gram, bigger amounts will be considerably cheaper. By the kilo it isn't worth much more than 2-3 euros per gram.

The obvious advantage for the smugglers is that there is no person to get busted.

The obvious disadvantage is that the drone is programmed with a source and destination point which are easily extracted from the machine. Cleaver LEOs could probably get to the receiving point within the window when the drone is expected and, if not, the points are probably pretty close to their base of operations.

When interrogating a pilot the pilot can clearly signal distress to compatriots and is likely going to take longer to actually disclose their intended destination.


You could certainly program it to delete the source and destination once speed goes low enough far from the destination.

Can you imagine when one day cartel got their hands on robots?

Seems like a sub would be more surreptitious.


When the price drops enough maybe refugees by drone?

I predicted drug smuggling via drones would be a thing when I learned about consumer drones 7 years ago now. Sometimes it sucks to be right.

Portugal has all drugs decriminalized. I guess smuggling drugs into Portugal is still illegal (and the distance is farther).

Can't wait till we end the stupid "war on drugs".


That's the only advantage of this small and little country. In Portugal it is illegal to own a cannabis plant.



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