Event 38 Unmanned Systems, a leading manufacturer of American-made mapping drones, has combined its new E400 fixed-wing drone platform with Ironclad, a leading high-security flight controller by Asymmetric Technologies, LLC.
The collaboration between Event 38 and Asymmetric began when Rob Hettler, president of Asymmetric, was investigating UAS platform options for showcasing the capabilities of Ironclad. Ironclad is a secure flight controller designed with advanced encryption and security features that meet the rigorous requirements of Department of Defense (DoD) users and other high security missions. Additionally, Ironclad is compatible with PX4 and Ardupilot, the two most popular open-source software programs for flight controllers and autopilots. Because of this, Ironclad users can design specialty features and customize the program to suit their needs.
Asymmetric received funding from the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) elevate Ironclad to a complete solution, so they started looking for a reputable partner with a quality UAS platform. “Ideally, we were looking for something American made from a company that had worked with the Department of Defense (DoD) before,” said Hettler. “But there aren’t many companies making purely American platforms right now.”
Hettler approached Jeff Taylor, president of Event 38 Unmanned Systems, to discuss a possible collaboration. Under Taylor’s leadership, Event 38 has been making fixed-wing drones for mapping and other applications on American soil for ten years. Event 38 drones are designed to meet rigorous expectations for security, accuracy, and functionality. As of 2020, the company has been operating out of Richfield, Ohio.
Hettler and Taylor agreed that the best platform for demoing Ironclad’s capabilities and features was the E400, a fixed-wing drone with vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capabilities that was released earlier this year.
“We made a custom version of the E400 for the Asymmetric team,” said Taylor. “It has all the premium features of a standard E400, such as the hot-swap payload bay, the range, the VTOL capabilities, and the battery pack. The E400 has its own high-level security features and is compatible with open-source programming, so Asymmetric can integrate their own flight controller on a secure platform.”
“The E400 is a solidly built, really nice platform. It’s the best-looking platform in our lab,” said Hettler. “And we’d much rather work with a company up the road in Ohio than halfway across the country or around the world.”
The E400 is a carbon fiber, fixed-wing VTOL drone with a flight time of ninety minutes and a payload capacity of five pounds. The E400’s origin story can be traced back to 2019, when Event 38 partnered with the Air Force Rapid Sustainment Office (RSO) to explore VTOL functionality for fixed-wing aircraft. Event 38 ran trials with the Air National Guard on a military-grade drone that became commercially available earlier this year as the E400.
“This collaboration between Event 38 and Asymmetric represents the growing number of possibilities for drone technology and the E400,” said Taylor. “We’re combining the security offered by the Ironclad autopilot with the long flight time and other features of the E400 to create an incredibly valuable tool.”
The unmanned aircraft industry is currently seeing renewed interest in cybersecurity features, especially in light of the situation in Ukraine. “Russian and Ukrainian drones are being shot down and taken apart, and the pictures are being posted online,” said Hettler. “It’s like flying a high-end laptop over enemy territory or other places where you don’t want people to have access to things. There’s a real need for the cybersecurity protections we’ve been developing, like Ironclad.”
Ironclad is designed with a range of premium encryption features, including initial user authentication, secure connection, and anti-tamper features that will wipe encryption keys in an emergency situation. In simple terms, if a drone with an Ironclad autopilot were to crash in unfriendly territory, Ironclad could erase sensitive data automatically, before it could fall into the wrong hands.
“For potential E400 users that need a higher level of security, the possibilities are exciting,” said Taylor.
Hettler is especially enthusiastic about the E400’s VTOL capabilities, which allow for easier operation, especially in field environments.
“AFRL isn’t using pure multirotor drones much. The vast majority of their drones have been fixed wing up until now,” said Hettler. “But these platforms often need dedicated runways and support equipment that won’t necessarily work in the field. A VTOL hybrid platform like the E400 gives them the luxury of straight, vertical lift-off. They don’t need the runway, but they can still do fixed-wing missions. AFRL is excited about testing this platform.” Taylor hopes to introduce the E400 with Ironclad as a standard option in the future. Those interested in the E400 can contact Event 38 at email@example.com.