The Stork STM parafoil-based unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) made by the UK’s Animal Dynamics has been selected to participate in the next phase of the UK Royal Navy’s Uncrewed Aerial Systems Heavy Lift Challenge (UASHLC), the company announced on 14 March 2023.

Animal Dynamics describes the Stork STM as “an autonomous aerial logistics vehicle capable of beyond visual line of sight operations and carrying payloads weighing 135 kg over a 400 km distance”. The company says it focused on that particular payload capacity because it is “an optimum weight to resupply an eight-person section for a two-day period”. Such a capability also meets the Royal Navy’s requirements for both intra- and inter-theatre resupply tasks.

Animal Dynamics’ Stork STM parafoil-based UAV is so far holding its own against other UAV types in the Royal Navy’s UASHLC contest. (Image: Animal Dynamics)

UASHLC Phase 2 is a joint effort between the Future Capability Group of the UK Ministry of Defence’s Defence Equipment & Support organisation and the Royal Navy’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer and 700X Naval Air Squadron. The initiative aims to explore the potential use of uncrewed technologies to deliver supplies and equipment intra-theatre (ship-to-ship) and inter-theatre (ship-to-shore and vice versa), which would free up crewed assets like helicopters to perform more specialist tasks.

Having successfully prevailed alongside established UAV solutions to come through a pre-selection flying competition in 2022, 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 be integrating secure satellite communications, allowing the Stork STM to be operated anywhere in the world, and fitting a sonobuoy dispenser on the vehicle to demonstrate that its payload space can be used for a number of different mission types. The company will also conduct additional wing development work that includes a retraction capability, making the vehicle safe for deck operations.

Animal Dynamics claims that the Stork STM’s parafoil design “overcomes many of the challenges associated with heavy-lift multirotor and hybrid VTOL [vertical take-off and landing] designs, which are often range limited due to the need for significant power during take-off and landing”.

The company adds that, “unlike traditional fixed-wing aircraft, the Stork STM can take off and land in short distances on unprepared ground”.

Peter Felstead