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Sri Lanka Engineering News - July / August 2016


Drones Drones Everywhere.....
by Eng. S R H Mudunkotuwa


his will be the first in the
series of upcoming
articles about remote
controlled aerial vehicles which
are also known as drones. In
this article series I will be
talking about the origins,
theory behind operation, real
commercially available drones
and finally on regulation of
applications/use of such
It is well known to all of us that,
reconnaissance missions and
bombing missions over many
foreign soils. Currently, their
missions involve bomb raids
and intelligence collection in
countries such as Syria, Iraq
and Afghanistan. Needless to
say, most of those missions
are top secret and with the
rising tension of world politics,
the number of such missions
increases day by day. Keeping
that in mind, it was rather
surprising to see that the US
air force reducing its fleet of
fighter pilots recently.
According to New York times,
the Department of Defence, US
has taken a decision to replace
pilots in a jet, with something
else. What is this something
On the other side of the planet,
yesterday was my neighbor’s
son’s birthday, and the young
man has turned 15. I saw his
father has gifted him a wrapped
box as the birthday present.
After about 20 minutes, I saw
the kid is flying something. He
had some kind of a remote
controller in his hand and he
was looking at the sky. What
is that thing?
What made US, the most
powerful military power in the
whole world to reduce it’s
human pilot fleet and what
would be their replacement for
defending the nation? What
was the kid flying?

The word “drone” is not an
unpopular word anymore like it
used to be about 10 years ago.
The above examples are more
than adequate to describe the
popularity that they have
gained and how much the world
is relying on them. Surely,
there are many more examples
all around us and I assure you
there are too many than you
would have ever imagined.
According to oxford dictionary,
the “drone” is “a remote
controlled pilotless aircraft or
missile”. If we get deep in to
the matter, it can be seen that
drones have various categories
and classifications based on
many grounds. Indeed, it is
accurate and common to all
such categories that the

drones are remotely controlled
or pilotless. As a matter of fact,
they are also commonly known
as UAV (Unmanned Aerial
Vehicles) and calling such will
cover all the categories. To
understand drones in full, it is
important to classify them in
to groups. But, classification of
drones itself is a hard job due
to the extremely wide range of
drones available today in the
global context. Drones/UAVs
can be categorized based on
following main criteria.

their scaled up versions. When these machines fly, they technically “glide” with the help
of the wind and hence they are also called “gliders” in short.

1) Orientation
Design based
2) Size and Weight
3) Application based

The principle behind this design is much more different that those of fixed wing type.
These have two rotors and there are several subcategories of them. A common feature in
all of these subcategories would be that all of them are VTOL (vertical take-off and landing)
type. The most common VTOL aero vehicle that we all know is the helicopter. As the
name implies, VTOLs need no runways for the take off. Instead, they use vertical thrust
to lift up the vehicle using single or dual propellers. The same propeller also can change
the pitch which will enable the forward motion through changing the direction of the
thrust. There is a second rotor dedicated to turn the aircraft to left or to right. In some
designs, both rotors are mounted on each other vertically. Although, the orientation of the
two rotors is different in various designs, the theory of operation is almost the same.

Orientation and Design
Based Categorization
UAVs come in various designs
and orientations. Those are
directly proportional to the
theory behind their operation.
By referring to several
examples, this fact can be
easily understood. The main
parameters can be identified as
number of rotors and take off

Figure 1 : Front Rotor and Rear Rotor Versions of Fixed Wing Drones
Dual Rotor Drones

Based on the above two factors
the designs/models available
are as follows.
Single rotor (Front or rear)
Fixed wing
Dual rotor
Tri, Quad, Hex, Octo rotors
Single Rotor & Fixed Wing
This design and it’s theory of
operation is very similar to
large carrier aircrafts we see in
airports. They consist of large
gas turbine engines to provide
the thrust required for forward
direction and after reaching the
required speed they lift up
using Bernoulli’s theory. To
achieve the lifting wind speeds,
they need large runways for the
take off. The two wings have
flaps which can be raised or
lowered which will support lift,
control turning and for speed
regulation of the air craft.
The single rotor fixed wing
drones operate on the same
physical principles. Instead of
big gas turbines, they have
single propeller coupled to
electric motors powered by
batteries or small internal
combustion engines powered
by gasoline/diesel. The rotors
are fixed on the front or on the
back of the aircraft. They also
have flaps on their wings which
are driven by mini servo motors.
Despite of their small size,
they still need a runway to
achieve lifting speeds just like

Figure 2 : Different designs of Dual rotor Drones

Tri, Quad, Hex, Octo rotor Drones
These drones are multi rotors and contain a number of rotors as infered by their names.
They share the same theory of operation.

Figure 3 : Rotor Configurations of Tri, Quad, Hex & Octo Drones
These individual rotors are driven by individual high speed (brushless type) motors. The
direction of rotation is also shown in the figures. The propellers are mounted on motor
shafts. The propeller twist angle is inverted in each adjacent rotors. For example, in a
quadcopter drone, the two clockwise motors (CW) have identical props with the same
twist angle and direction, while the counter clockwise motors (CCW) have identical props
with same twist and direction, but inverted compared to CW motor props. The speeds of
rotation of each of these motors decide the movements of the multirotor drone. Front,
back, left, right and yaw movements of the drone is implemented using the speed variations of the motors. We will be discussing this further in detail in many articles to come.