Featured NewsProduct NewsEnterprise DronesThe Birth of Long Range Aerial Autonomy


07 July 2023

FlightWave Aerospace Inc. took flight when Stanford graduates Trent Lukaczyk and Mike Colonno saw the need for a better drone. During Lukaczyk's Ph.D. in aerospace engineering, he got a career-defining opportunity. He was invited to join a team of biologists on a trip to Ofu, American Samoa, where he was tasked with piloting a drone to map the coral reef that surrounded the island. On the island, he piloted 25 flights in 10 days. “Each flight was super stressful,” Lukaczyk recalls. “We had to take off from tight spaces on a beach, with lots of wind, and for 12 minutes I was clinging to my controller wondering whether the quadcopter would make it back to land, or run out of power over the water.” The challenges he faced on Ofu shaped Lukaczyk’s view of what was missing in UAVs. “Both through firsthand experience running tough missions in hard-to-reach places, and talking to people embedded in the drone community, it was clear that there was a need for a durable vehicle that flew longer, faster and farther,” he says. Lukaczyk returned to Stanford with new clarity about the work he wanted to do — and why it was important. He had already met Mike Colonno at the university while working on supersonic passenger jets with Lockheed Martin and NASA. The duo realized that if they could accomplish this new vision for UAV technology, it would unlock a whole new set of capabilities for projects they were passionate about, like monitoring the environment.

Meet the Edge 130

Edge 130 Enterprise.

FlightWave has evolved into a “dual-use” company focused on developing products for both the commercial and defense markets. FlightWave spent years of intense development creating and refining the high-performance Edge 130 VTOL to increase its endurance for long-range missions and demanding environments. The Edge 130 has no flaps or rudders. It utilizes smooth control surfaces and patented ‘tilt-pod’ motors to steer and pilot the airframe through thrust vectoring flight control. These unique capabilities caught the eye of the Defense Innovation Unit’s Blue sUAS Program and the Edge 130 received an Authority To Operate (ATO) designation as part of the Blue sUAS 2.0 Program. As a result, the NDAA-compliant Edge 130 Blue UAS has been approved by the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) for procurement by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and has been placed on the Blue UAS Cleared List for US Federal agencies to purchase. It is the only Blue UAS certified fixed-wing aircraft that can also stop and hover like a multicopter. This is very unique for this size aircraft. The Edge 130 is also easy to fly as it auto-transitions from multi-rotor to thrust-vector control fixed-wing flight without pilot input. Due to its modular design, Edge 130 can be assembled, taken apart and packed in a portable case by one person, tool free, in under a minute. Easy to use twist lock technology enables operators to swap payloads very quickly for different mission sets.  With its compact design, the Edge 130 can take off and land anywhere, even in high winds, without the need for ground equipment. With a speedy one-minute assembly and hand launch capability, this lightweight drone flies for over 2 hours in forward flight mode, providing operators the ability to capture high volumes of aerial imagery in an efficient, single flight. Ideal for long range missions, the Edge 130 has an impressive 12 mile flight range. In addition to the Edge 130 Blue, FlightWave produces a commercial variant called the Edge 130 Enterprise that is conspicuous in the air with its’ ‘Blazing Orange’ color and support for Remote ID. FlightWave designs, develops and manufactures its entire product line in Santa Monica CA.

Edge 130 Blue.

A Flexible Platform with Swappable Payload Options

One of FlightWave’s payloads is the ultra-wide Mapping Array featuring a series of three, 13 MP superfast global shutter cameras that generate five, 39 MP composite images every second. The Edge 130 high-performance aircraft provides an incredibly stable flight at a nominal cruise airspeed of 33 mph and when paired with the Mapping Array, can autonomously capture terabytes of geospatial data that gets transferred along with image metadata to a high-capacity onboard CF card. Combined with the Mapping Array payload, the Edge 130 excels at mapping and surveying and is able to cover over 1000 acres of land in one 90 minute flight. The Edge 130 is an integral tool for use in aerial construction monitoring, energy & utility inspection, public safety & emergency services or for any long-range, aerial land surveying and mapping missions where existing multicopters don’t have the necessary endurance and a high-performance aircraft is needed.  

FlightWave also produces the OverWatch Gimbal payload that features a highly capable EO/IR camera combination, housed in a stabilized 3-Axis gimbal that enables the Edge 130 to livestream 4k, 30fps RGB color video down to the handheld controller. The Overwatch Gimbal also includes a pair of FLIR Boson 320 thermal cameras, each with 320x256 resolution set at two different fixed zoom levels that provide high-res thermal vision and can detect heat signatures day or night. Combined with the OverWatch Gimbal, the Edge 130 provides the ultimate long-range ISR tool for overhead surveillance to gain situational awareness. The ability to loiter for long periods of time at high altitude monitoring ground activity, then stop and focus & follow a target for almost 2 hours is a game changer for many use cases.

Driving the Future of Long Range Aerial Autonomy

FlightWave has emerged as a global provider of long range, autonomous VTOL UAV solutions delivering unparalleled value to operators worldwide. With advancements in technology and increased adoption, drones will continue to reshape how we work and interact with the world around us. In this ever evolving industry, FlightWave is proud to offer a highly versatile, future-proof product that can add new capabilities through use of new payloads that are easily swappable, all while keeping the same airframe.

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