The Autonomous Flying Ambulance

The autonomous flying ambulance, nicknamed the Mule, is a creation of Rafi Yoeli, who used to work for Boeing and Israeli Aerospace Industries. He later founded his own company, Urban Aeronautics, in Yavne, Israel.

The Mule is the smaller version of another Urban Aeronautics product, the X-Hawk. The former vehicle has been designed for the purpose of carrying injured military personnel (hence the name ‘flying ambulance’) out of combat areas, while the latter is aimed for urban and personal use.

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Several of Yoeli’s patented inventions are integrated into the Mule, including his VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) vehicle technology and the hybrid drive-powered lift platform. Both the Mule and the X-Hawk, for instance, are classified as VTOL vehicles.

Mule Specifications

The Mule’s movement is attributable to two pairs of ducted, three-bladed fans: one pair for vertical motion and another pair for horizontal motion. All the fans are powered by a single Rolls-Royce turbine helicopter engine. The fans are covered to protect them from external damage.

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Each Mule unit is expected to cost around one and a half million U.S. dollars. Urban Aeronautics is projecting a first flight for their prototype sometime before 2010.

Applications and Interest for the Mule

The Mule was initially designed for military use on the battlefield. Each Mule is equipped with two pods – one on either side – to carry injured personnel from a position that is normally inaccessible to helicopters. According to Yoeli, the Mule was designed to fit in and squeeze through the tightest spots, making it optimal for use in urban or jungle scenarios.

Each Mule unit can be located and contacted through a GPS system. It will fly towards the marked position at up to 100 miles per hour and will then attempt to land on the nearest rooftop. Its fans are also covered to reduce vulnerability to gunfire and other projectiles.

Aside from the military, however, other entities have also expressed commercial interest in the Mule.

Obstacles to the Development of the Mule

The news about the Mule met with some dissent. Some experts in the field of military personnel transport are skeptical of the reliability of ducted fans, which were previously used in failed experiments. Another concern that was expressed was the lack of medical attention from a human, which could be valuable if the evacuee is in critical condition. This psychological situation of being rescued by an automated vehicle rather than a human proved to be another point against the Mule as a first choice for an evacuation vehicle out of a battlefield.

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  1. Pingback: Flying Ambulance | Airambulance News.co.uk

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