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A new vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) fixed-wing hybrid drone was recently deployed by China’s navy on a guided missile destroyer. The rare move was part of an exercise in the South China Sea in late February. The drone is expected to carry out reconnaissance and search missions at longer ranges for destroyers and frigates. The drone could also guide artillery fire from warships and conduct damage assessment during an amphibious landing operation, said Wei Dongxu, a Beijing-based military analyst.

The drone took off from the helicopter deck of the Lanzhou, a Type 052C destroyer, during the three-day exercise.

Chinamil.com.cn reported that the drone boasts a triple-fuselage design. The left and right fuselages each have four propellers: two on top, two on the bottom. A larger propeller is installed at the rear of the aircraft. It uses four simple brackets under the middle fuselage as its landing gear.

“The eight smaller propellers can provide the lift needed for VTOL, and the larger propeller provide thrust,” Wei Dongxu told globaltimes.cn. A VTOL aircraft is very suitable for a vessel as it requires little room for takeoff and landing, Wei said, noting that the new hybrid drone has combined the advantage of a rotorcraft and a fixed-wing aircraft.

Wei evaluates, according to the photo published, that the drone appears to have a wingspan of about four meters, allowing it to be stored in helicopter hangar.

Chinese military observers noticed the drone shares many similarities to the Sea Cavalry SD-40, a VTOL fixed-wing drone developed by Eagle Aviation Technology and displayed in various exhibitions.