A modular vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial system (UAS) is made up of multiple unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) modules with uniform wingtips for tip-to-tip docking. Each UAV has twin booms with front and rear propellers and an empennage with a downward-mounted vertical rudder. All the propellers are tiltable for VTOL and the front ones are stowable for cruise efficiency.

One of the UAVs can be configured as a larger parent unit and carry additional fuel or battery resources to extend the range of the docked children UAVs. All of the UAVs in the formation are connected via onboard radio systems and programmed with a docking methodology.

Resources can be transferred between vehicles in the formation through probes and receptacles in the wingtips while they are securely docked together via magnetic retention. This enables the formation of UAVs to achieve longer range collectively, while enabling the child UAVs to detach for short-run missions before returning for additional resources or to maximize cruise efficiency during the return flight to base.

The parent UAV is VTOL and conventionally capable and operates as a wing-borne vehicle. The children UAVs resemble the parent but at smaller scale and can be deployed from the wing-borne parent unit, perform their task, and re-dock before the full assembly returns to base.

Increasing the effective wingspan via wingtip docking results in significant increases in cruise efficiency and operational range over existing, singular UAV platforms. The sharing of onboard resources and automation of wingtip docking operations further increases the operational flexibility and mission utility of this modular UAV system.

NASA is actively seeking licensees to commercialize this technology. Please contact NASA’s Licensing Concierge at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call us at 202-358-7432 to initiate licensing discussions. Follow this link here  for more information.


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This article first appeared in the December, 2020 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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