A few weeks ago, Hartzell travelled to AUVSI 2014 — known in the industry as “drone prom” — and reported on some of the incredibly advanced Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology being developed in the Dayton, Ohio region. Hartzell has been supplying composite propellers for UAV flight test and development programs since 2009. This year our persistence paid off as we made our first series production deliveries of our Bantam-series composite UAV propellers. But, Hartzell’s experience designing high performance UAV propellers goes back nearly three decades.
In 1989, the Boeing Condor set the record for the highest altitude ever achieved by a piston engine aircraft. Two 16ft. Hartzell propellers adorned the 200ft. wingspan of the Condor, giving it the power needed to rise an incredible 66,980 feet above the Earth and, later, to stay aloft for over two-and-a-half days. These events are well documented bits of aviation history. Less well known, though equally as incredible, is the fact that the Boeing Condor was a UAV. The use of computer technology for aviation was well established by the late 1980s, but the hardware of the day was incomparably limited in relation to modern UAV systems.
The lack of sophisticated flight technology made designing a propeller for the Condor a unique challenge. The prop had to be efficient enough to reach an unprecedented altitude, but also reliable and durable enough to allow the aircraft to operate for long periods of time in the extremely cold temperatures of high altitude flight without a human pilot in the cockpit. It was a perfect opportunity for Hartzell’s engineers to demonstrate their technological prowess, which they have been doing for nearly 100 years.
Though the Boeing Condor was only designed to serve as a test platform, it set the stage for the incredible progress being made today in military, commercial and civilian UAV development. Hartzell’s 25 years of experience put us at the forefront of this cutting edge industry, giving our engineering and manufacturing teams the chance to once again do what they do best: push the boundaries of aviation.