Expert Interview Series: Alvaro Escarpenter of Alpha Unmanned Systems on 25 Collective Years In The Drone Industry

Alvaro Escarpenter is Aeronautic Engineer, holds a Degree in Economy and is Drone Pilot. He is also the COO of Alpha Unmanned Systems.

Alpha Unmanned Systems has more than 25 years of collective experience in the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) industry. To start, how did you first get involved with drones? Was it as a hobbyist, or did you start out with professional aspirations?

This experience is the combined experience accumulated by the forming team of ALPHA, now it is more than 25. In my case, I was involved in the UAV industry both as hobbyist and as engineer, but I have to say that as hobbyist, I’ve never been too much of a pilot. Luckily in the company we have Julio Memba as Chief Pilot that has won a couple of Spanish Championships.

Alpha Unmanned Systems is the leading developer, designer, and producer of small UAVs in Spain. How is the drone industry in Spain, at the moment? What are some things that are particular to your country?

In Spain there is a good environment for the development of the UAV sector and applications. We have the ATLAS centre to make VLOS flights in a safe airspace, the legislation is not too prohibitive and – thanks to companies like EADS – there’s lots of suppliers of aeronautics materials also used in UAVs.

Alpha Unmanned Systems offer reliable, affordable, professional-quality drones for commercial applications. What are some things you’ve done, to make your drones particularly affordable? What are some signs that a new drone user can look for, to find a high-quality drone at an affordable price?

First of all affordable does not mean cheap, it means cost effective. Sometimes people misunderstand the difference. We try to use industry available components that are manufactured in large numbers and we do the integration of the components in our platform . All the electronics systems have been designed by us to be flexible for the multiple applications and different range of payloads we offer.

About reliability, we test each part of the helicopter extensively, accumulating hundreds of hours of flight. Thanks to this extensive training, we offer a finished product that does what it claims to do.

Alpha Unmanned Systems also designs, manufactures, and tests drones. How has designing and manufacturing drones impacted your understanding of the industry? How has it changed the way you look at other drones on the market?

We design manufacture and test our own drone, the ALPHA 800 (this is the new name of the SNIPER), and we are 100% focused on the helicopters market space, and this because we consider it a niche. There are lots of companies manufacturing multi-rotors or fixed wing aircraft but a very few producing good, unmanned helicopters for professional use.

Similarly, what are some things you look for, when testing drones? What advice would you give for fledgling drone designers and manufacturers?

Follow strict procedures for product validation, prepare acceptance product procedures and follow it, recording all the results.
Basically, test your system until you know it limitations, performance, maintenance schedule and do it step-by-step.

Alpha Unmanned Systems has recently released the SNIPER Helicopter UAV, which features up to 2 hours of autonomous flight at a range of 15 to 30 km. What have been some recent advancements in battery technology which have made these developments possible? Are there any drone batteries you’d particularly recommend?

We are able to reach this specifications (2.5 hours right now) mainly thanks not to the batteries but to the gasoline engine we use combined with the use of an on-board alternator/generator (POWER BOARD) that provides power for all the electric systems of the UAV in the same way that a conventional car would do. Also, I can advance that we are in the first stage of the integration of Electronic Fuel Injection which would increase the endurance of the platform up to 30%, making our system the longest endurance helicopter in the market.

What have been some complications, ranging out up to 30 km, that you’ve had to overcome? How did you solve them?

The main complication we has to cope with was finding the best balance between bandwidth consumption and video quality. We solved it by testing, testing and testing, different video compression rates, antennas etc until we reached the optimum configuration.

Alpha Unmanned Systems specialize in enhanced technology, flight control systems (FCS), and intelligent payloads for ISTAR missions and non-military tasks. First off, can you explain a bit what you mean by enhanced technology? And have there been any exciting new breakthroughs in flight control systems that could have significant implications for the drone industry?

For us, enhanced technology means commercially available technologies that are adapted for use on UAVs. Flight Control Systems are evolving very quick, integrating more sensors that makes it more reliable, autonomous and dependable. What very high tech only a few years ago is now part of the basic features and this will continue during the next few years, bringing new and exiting possibilities and uses for the sector.

In your experience, what are some fields or industries that seem to be adopting UAV technology extensively? Where might a drone operator concentrate their energies, if they’re looking to pilot drones commercially?

In one word, for a pilot the most important thing is the experience.

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