SKIF drone history: from the first prototype to series production

SKIF drone history: from the first prototype to series production

The SKIF UAV is an original development of the Ukrainian company Culver Aviation. This drone is capable of staying in the air 1.5 times longer and covering twice as much distance in one flight as similar drones.

A team of more than 60 employees - programmers, electronic engineers and aerodynamicists - worked on the design of this UAV for 8 years.

The journey from the first prototype to serial production was described in the article.

Never has there been more talk about drones in Ukraine than this year. Social media filled the meeting on Bayraktors, mapping planes and even basic quadcopters.

Against the backdrop of war, Ukrainians are exploring the saturated global drone market. Our engineers also distinguished themselves on it with technological "birds". One of them is SKIF. With military roots, this UAV has been solving peaceful business tasks for several years.

The Ukrainian bird

The SKIF is a Ukrainian mono-wing drone developed and produced by Culver Aviation. It works on commercial tasks: measuring fields, monitoring crops or long objects like pipelines.

In peacetime, the Skif fleet flies over tens of thousands of hectares to help agrarians, environmentalists and rescuers make decisions. The predecessor of the Skiff also inspected fields. But it wasn't surveying roads and farmland, it was surveying hostile positions.

A Patriot-esque beginning

In February 2014, a friend of his walked into the office of Alexander Danilenko, the future CEO of Culver Aviation. Maidan had just won, "green men" had appeared in Crimea, Donbass was sickened by pro-Russian protests. The country was changing in plain sight.

"We were talking about events and new projects. And then a friend talked about his hobby - aircraft modeling. He bragged that he was able to assemble a 'plane' that flies coordinates and transmits a video stream. He wanted to support the army. I got interested," Danilenko recalls.

At the time, Alexander was running a small systems integration business. A graduate of Radiotech, he liked to design since childhood and was fond of robotics. Together with a friend, Danilenko went into the field to test a homemade drone. "And it started," he says.

Soon after the beginning of Russia's hybrid aggression in the Donbass, the friends created the EyeTech volunteer group in Kiev. Alexander Danilenko and his colleagues focused on creating a reconnaissance drone for the frontline.

The group assembled the first specimens in their garage for their own savings.

"They were different models from each other. We bought Chinese Styrofoam planes and cut them up, glued them together. That's what everybody did back then. It got better each time, and in the end the live experience paid off," Danilenko says.

That's how my colleagues got their hands on it. They produced ground control stations with antennas for airplanes.

They tested drones in the fields around the capital and took them to military ranges. Apart from EyeTech, there were dozens of Ukrainian developments in the first wave. However, it was the Patriot UAV (as the volunteer group called its model) that was included by the Ministry of Defense in the top five for controlled operation.

Serious flights

In December 2014, the group turned into a research and production enterprise ITEC. It began to take part in major exhibitions, visited the first persons of the state. In one of the interviews President Poroshenko recalls Patriot. In parallel, ITEC was making aerial reconnaissance complexes ordered by volunteers and continued to improve the devices.

In 2015, the company began to fully design the carrier. A specialist in aerodynamics who fought in the ATO helped with this. At present, he is already designing aircraft at Culver Aviation. And thanks to gratitude and feedback from the front, the team gained the necessary functionality: installed a high-precision camera, a thermal imager, and a battery that provides up to two hours of autonomous flight.

Since 2016, it has been possible to produce composite hulls with Kevlar, fiberglass, and carbon fiber. Aerodynamics calculated on the computer became easy to reproduce in the physical world.

"In 2014-2016, we managed to make several aerial reconnaissance complexes for the military. Since then, I have kept letters of commendation, commendations and a Ukrainian banner signed by the fighters," says Alexander Danilenko.

From the front - to the fields

In mid-2016, the team began looking for ways to monetize. Volunteer orders were enough for support, but not for development. And the signing of a contract with the Ministry of Defense was prevented by bureaucracy on the part of the state. The company decided to change the direction of the product.

At that time, businesses and government agencies had already formed a demand for land surface imaging and data processing. The Patriot drone was adapted to them: it kept the same body, engine, battery, and removed the thermal imager and video camera. Thus SKIF, a civil version of a military "bird", appeared.

The SKIF's mission is a fast aerial survey of the Earth's surface with an exact fixation to the coordinates.

Among its tricks:

  • Image quality, atypical for an aircraft of this size: with a 60 MP camera that gives an accuracy of up to 1 cm per pixel in plan, you can see individual crop leaves and rocks on the road;
  • Dual frequency GNSS - navigation system from a company with which Culver Aviation has an exclusive manufacturing contract, thanks to which the digital map has a high coordinate accuracy;
  • Working time - on a single charge SKIF can fly over an area of 3,000-3,500 hectares or take off in a length of 60 km and return.

The top customer in Ukraine is the agricultural sector, which needs to constantly monitor changes in the fields.

"Before the season, agrarians have to get the exact contours of the plots to calculate the sowing budget and not to leave any uncultivated pieces. And then to monitor the crops in time to prevent plant diseases and not to slow down the harvest," explains Alexander Danilenko.

Initially, the company sold planes and trained agroholding employees to operate them and process the data. This burdened customers with unnecessary work. After a while, the business model was changed to Drone-as-a-Service. The team figures out the tasks, travels to the survey site, does the surveying and flight work, processes the data and produces a result that can be used in business solutions.

It's not just about crops. One can monitor from the air the condition of forest resources, assess the consequences of natural disasters, condition of roads, pipelines, high-rise objects. For example, Scythians are now engaged to assess the destruction caused by the Russian invasion.

New phase

In 2021, ITEC joined the TECHIIA holding company and changed its name to Culver Aviation. The team grew to several dozen people. The SKIF unmanned complex got a series production: fuselage and electronics design, hull and board manufacturing, assembly, programming. In addition to services, the company is developing an innovation that will be presented at a leading international exhibition of commercial UAVs in September.

Culver Aviation responded quickly to the Russian invasion. Most of the team of pilots left to defend the country in the AFU from the first days. Production was relocated to the west of the country, keeping the pace of manufacturing the skiffs under services. For social support opened a free school of drone operators, which has already taught 70 people.

"The work continues. "We are waiting for state permission to resume commercial flights - these are economic and food security issues. We are also preparing to release a new product that will turn the idea of what drone services are," says Alexander Danilenko.