The Robara

Wingbeat's first prey species is the Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulata, the ultimate quarry of Arabian falconry. The Robara is an exact replica of an adult male Houbara. But whereas the real Houbara weighed 2000g, the Robara weighs less than 1000g. We have spent two years designing the Robara and testing prototypes on falcons ranging in size from male gyr/peregrines through to female gyrfalcons. The Robara has to be very carefully designed so that it can match the flight performance profiles of the very best falcons, but not exceed them. It is important that the balance between predator and prey is maintained and the Robara must not be so powerful that it can outfly the falcon.

The Robara is the same size and shape as a real Houbara and can fly with flapping wings. Its feather pattern is printed photographically to give it a realistic appearance. This means that it mimics a real live Houbara, and the falcon treats it as if it was real. It chases the Robara just for the joy of chasing, it stoops at its head if it can, and binds to the head, hanging on all the way down to the ground. When it lands it tries to 'kill' the Robara by biting its neck, which is covered with a realistic lycra skin.

In the hands of a skilled pilot, the Robara can climb to 500m (1650 feet) in 3 minutes and is very agile. Competition models transmit down real-time data on altitude and airspeed. In level flight the top speed matches that of the falcon - about 23m/sec (50 mph). It can be flown in winds of up to Force 7, but for practical purposes Force 5 is a more realistic upper limit. Its electric internal impeller has a battery life of 5 minutes under full power which is about right for competition purposes. When used in training, not under full power, flights can last 8-10 minutes.

The Robara has to be safe for the falcon to hit it at high speed in a stoop, and to hold it all the way down to the ground. On a windy day this can put a huge strain on a small falcon, but we have never had any injuries. The external surface is completely smooth with no protruding elements or servos. The head which takes a pounding from the falcon, is made of a special foam rubber to absorb the forces of the falcon's stoop. It is able to crush completely when the Robara is accidently flown head first into the ground, thereby absorbing a lot of the impact rather than transmitting it into the fuselage which contains the electronics. From the point of view of human Health and Safety, the Robara is very light and soft, and poses little risk to bye-standers, unlike propeller planes and copters.

The Robara has two wing options. The Trainer wing beats like a live Houbara and it looks very realistic. It is great for starting the young falcons who cannot resist the flapping. It is a simple step from there to hunting wild Houbara. The Trainer wing is also used for Level One competition flying. But above this level the G-forces and airspeeds are too great for the Trainer wing. The Sports wing is tougher and has no moving parts. It is designed to take the higher speeds and manoeuvres needed in competition flying right up to Level 5 reached by the very best falcons. Sports wings come in for much rougher treatment and being very simple in their design it is an easy matter to fit a new pair.

The Robara is designed to be 'killed' just like a real Houbara. It is designed to be hit, clawed and wrestled to the ground from great heights. It is designed to be broken! We would much rather smash a Robara than injure a precious falcon. But the Robara is also designed to be easily repaired and has interchangeable replaceable parts. Your Robara will soon carry some 'war wounds' but it can keep flying! Usually, when a falcon catches it in the air, the falcon will bring it to earth with little or no damage. The worst damage is usually caused by pilot error. Pilots can panic when being chased hard near the ground by a keen falcon...

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