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If you’ve dreamed of flying over your farm to check things out, Ryse Aero Technologies may be the airship you’re looking for. This Ohio-based startup has created a unique machine that can be flown without a pilot’s license and offers a new way to see a farm or ranch.
“I’m a technologist by nature,” says Mick Kowitz, founder and CEO, Ryse Aero Technologies. “I’m also a private pilot.”
He explains that he and a few business partners started discussing the electric vertical takeoff and landing market – eVTOL – which is today focused mainly on creating air taxis. Kowitz and his partners saw a different opportunity: an ultralight machine that could be flown by anyone.
Kowitz recalls those early discussions of creating an ultralight. He admits as a private pilot that he has no love of conventional ultralight machines, but discussions continued. He recalls early arguments about the idea and his stance that “a good technology doesn’t always make a good business.”
The discussion turned to agriculture and the wide use of all-terrain vehicles to get to remote places or travel around farms and ranches. “An ultralight is generally a sports and recreation class vehicle,” Kowitz says. But then he started looking at how a “sports and recreation” ultralight class machine could be used by a business noting that farms use ATVs and utility vehicles.
“We started looking at who would be a great early adopter for this technology,” he says. “I have good friends that are farmers with large farms and they’re like the perfect market for this.” He observes that farmers have long been the first to take on new tech including GPS, automation, and autonomy.
And the idea for a new kind of ultralight was born.
When you first see the Recon, and Farm Progress got a look at version 1 of the machine, it’s almost obvious in its design and purpose. It’s a single-rider, six blade aerial vehicle that operates more like a drone or helicopter than a traditional ultralight many have seen. The company celebrated its first manned test flight of the machine this week (the video with this story includes images from that first flight), a significant milestone for the startup.
Powered by six electric motors, the carbon-blade propellers spin at 2,000 rpm and when flying it’s not very loud. Kowitz is also quick to point out how easy it is to fly, noting that with as little as 45 minutes of training a user can be in the air.
There are safety systems and the controls for this airship are “drone like” in the ability to hover and rotate as easily as a helicopter. A main screen between two joysticks is what constitutes the operator platform.
“We have an artificial intelligence system on board, almost like a supercomputer, for controls,” Kowitz says. That AI system works to keep the machine steady when hovering even in winds has high as 25 mph. As for safety systems, if a pilot feels they’re in a little trouble, just maneuver to a safe place to set down and hit “land now” and the machine will lower to the ground providing a level landing.
The six electric rotors use removable battery packs that can be taken out for charging. “The removable battery pack design makes it easy to charge, but it also means in the future if there are new battery technologies they could be added with upgraded packs,” Kowitz says.
In addition, those removable packs can boost range. The machine will run for about 25 minutes on a charge. With it’s top speed of 63 mph, you can cover a lot of territory in that time, but if you need to expand the range Kowitz has a suggestion.
“A user could set up remote charging stations that are solar powered with more packs,” he says. “That way if they’re 20 miles out and don’t feel they have the range to return they could swap in fresh batteries from a remote station.” That approach would be popular on larger farms or ranches.
The machine is outfitted with equipment approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. In addition, the airship uses optical LIDAR for laser-based obstacle avoidance. This is not an autopilot system, the operator is always in control, but these added systems add to the safety of the Recon design.
And Recon floats. “The limit for an ultralight is 255 pounds empty, but if you fly on land and water you can add weight. We’re at 285 pounds,” Kowitz says. That increases the versatility of the machine as well.
The design of the machine is essentially simple. The aircraft grade aluminum frame holds the six rotors. Battery packs are contained under each rotor powering an electric motor that can be refurbished after it passes its useful life. Rotors are carbon fiber and can be replace by the owner too.
“A farmer that’s maintaining an internal combustion engine on his farm will have no problem maintaining this machine,” Kowitz says.
Initial operating life of the batteries and motors is about 2,500 hours, though that’s based on early build models. The company is putting test machines in the hands of farmers this fall and has a full build schedule planned out.
“We’ll start in 2023 with 100 machines that will mostly be hand built,” Kowitz says. “Our goal is to build 1,000 in 2024.” He explains that the first 100 machines will allow the company to fine-tune it’s manufacturing processes, which may include 3D printing of some components.
That first manned test flight marks a major milestone for the startup. Kowitz wants to talk with farmers too to get more insight into their thoughts of how the machine might be used. Ryse Aero Technologies will be on hand near the Autonomy exhibit on the east side of the grounds of the 2022 Farm Progress Show and they will be flying the machine during the event.
Willie Vogt has been covering agricultural technology for more than 40 years, with most of that time as editorial director for Farm Progress. He is passionate about helping farmers better understand how technology can help them succeed, when appropriately applied.
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