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Circuit Breaker

The QuadRKT is half-quadcopter, half-missile, and built for speed

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The design of small UAVs usually falls into one of two categories: the cruciform quadcopter (with extra arms added as necessary) and the fixed-wing glider (such as early iterations of Google's delivery drones). However, there's still room for innovation in this market, as demonstrated by the QuadRKT: a quadcopter drone with a rocket-shaped fuselage that can hovers vertically, but also switch to a horizontal orientation when it needs to go really fast.

Designed for DARPA but rejected as 'too risky'

The QuadRKT's basic design has been around for a few years, but its creators are now looking to raise funds on Kickstarter for further development. The team originally developed prototypes of the design (then known as the XQ-139 family of aircraft) for DARPA's Experimental Vertical Takeoff and Landing program. The US agency reportedly declared the QuadRKT "too risky" to build, and the drone's creators — a team of engineering and aerospace experts — are now trying to make their design a commercial reality by themselves.

There are a lot of big claims being made by QuadRKT, particularly that the design has the "lowest drag coefficient of any quadcopter out there" and that the smallest model has set unofficial speed records of 133 miles per hour. That's certainly faster than some of the speediest custom-built quadcopters we've seen (these can reportedly reach speeds of around 86 mph), but it's worth remembering that these claims are unverified. It's also disappointing that QuadRKT's videos never seem to show the craft in sustained horizontal flight, or its maneuverability — how it handles turns, loops, at high speed.

QuadRKT has so far built two sizes of its quadcopter: a small "training vehicle" dubbed the QuadSPRW (quad sparrow), and a larger version known as the QuadHWK (quad hawk). The QuadSPRW can be bought from the company's website for $300, while the QuadHWK is available now on Kickstarter from $1,200. An even bigger version of the aircraft intended for commercial users is dubbed the QuadEGL (yes, that's quad eagle), and is scheduled for a release "early in 2017."

The team behind QuadRKT certainly has an interesting product on their hands, but it's not clear if it's commercially viable. The cheapest QuadHWK on the company's Kickstarter is still pretty pricey, and the target audience — hobbyist quadcopter racers — aren't exactly the biggest around. There's also no mention of the quad's potential for surveillance or delivering packages — two applications where speed would be useful. Even a revolutionary new aircraft design will fail if it can't find a place in the market.