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Dutch rotary-wing unmanned aerial vehicle (RW UAV) specialist High Eye attended the LIMA 2023 defence exhibition, held in Llangkawi, Malaysia, from 23-26 May, to promote its Airboxer platform, which has already picked up sales in the region.

With a maximum take-off weight of 32 kg and powered by a 2-stroke, air-cooled, dual-injection heavy fuel engine, the Airboxer RW UAV has been designed to occupy the niche between small, low-cost electrically powered RW UAVs, which have limitations in terms of their endurance and payload, and larger heavy-fuel-powered platforms like the Schiebel Camcopter, which offer greater payload and endurance but are more expensive to both procure and operate.

The Airboxer, on the other hand, has a maximum payload of 7 kg and a maximum endurance of four hours with a 3 kg payload. In terms of costs, the whole Airboxer system, including ground control station, air vehicle and antennas, can be bought for around EUR 300,000, while the air vehicle’s fuel consumption is around 1.8 litres/hour and its maintenance costs are around EUR 150/hour (compared to around EUR 500-600 for a manned helicopter).

Philipp Jansen, High Eye’s marketing director, noted to ESD at LIMA on 24 May that the Airboxer is “quite military orientated” in its design specification. The air vehicle is hardened against electromagnetic interference according to MIL-STD -810F, able to operate in medium rain/light hail, and also “quite robust windwise”, according to Jansen. Its environmental protection is rated at IP-56 for the aircraft’s enclosure and IP-67 for the avionics, which are crash protected. An optional emergency flotation system has also been integrated onto the Airboxer, allowing the air vehicle to be retrieved if it is required to ditch over water.

High Eye brought its Airboxer rotary-wing UAV to LIMA 2023, looking to pick up more business in Southeast Asia, where it already has clients. (Photo: P Felstead)

Payloads integrated onto the Airboxer so far include electro-optical/infra-red sensors, a magnetic anomaly detector, and a ViDAR sensor, with AIS and ADS-B transponders also fitted.

In terms of the Airboxer’s client base, Jansen said the system is primarily targeted at navies and coast guards worldwide for missions such as surveillance and search and rescue, while the system is also applicable to land-based applications such as wildfire detection and power line checking.

Janson noted that High Eye “has already signed contracts” for Airboxer, mainly for navies and coast guards in Southeast Asia, although he added that a European university had also ordered a system, along with a US company involved in oceanic research.

Development of the Airboxer was completed in 2018 after several years of High Eye experimenting with different engine sizes and fuel types using two predecessor platforms: the HEDF30 and HEF32. These tests corroborated the notion of the Airboxer occupying its current niche in the RW UAV market, which Jansen said only a handful of competitors are currently addressing.

Peter Felstead