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Unmanned Cargo Update #6

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

Issue #: 6 (202306)

TECHNOLOGY:

  • Attention on autonomous delivery has been largely focused on last-mile drone delivery in recent years. Last-mile has served as the "shiny object" where investors and tech companies thought they were going to generate large returns being first to market. Interesting to find two companies on this list focused on the middle-mile autonomous cargo sector.

  • As Xwing has been featured in this publication before, here we are introduced to Gatik which is conducting autonomous middle-mile delivery on the ground.

  • These companies are an example of how uncrewed middle-mile air cargo (UMMAC) will become part of an ecosystem of autonomous delivery vehicles that are planned in all sectors of transportation.

  • The Vertiia electric vertical takeoff & landing aircraft is in development by Australian company AMSL Aero, and purpose built for aeromedical use.

  • This tilt-wing design consists of eight motors and propellers mounted to a blown-wing structure which makes this aircraft look like a flying box. Unlike traditional designs the Vertiia utilizes two sets of wing surfaces (forward/aft) for lift in forward flight, thus providing the expected aerodynamic efficiency.

  • Once certified this aircraft is expected to carry 1,100 LBs and travel 150 miles on a single charge. As this aircraft is fully digital, I see it as a short evolutionary modification to remove the pilot from the aircraft and being able to utilize the full 1,100 LB payload capacity for UMMAC transport.

  • European manufacturer AutoFlight sets longest eVTOL flight record that was established by American company Joby Aviation in 2021.

  • Measuring in at 42 ft wide and 11 feet high, this aircraft carries 900 lbs, 150+ miles.

  • A trend is definitely developing regarding the payload and range capabilities of eVTOL platforms. As of now the initial pool of aircraft that will be available to transport UMMAC will be able to carry between 800 lbs - 1,400 lbs approximately 100 - 150 miles.

Policy:

  • If you have the time for the read and need to catch up to where this industry currently is, this article covers all major issues faced by aviation and transportation organizations implementing Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) world wide. The International Civil Aviation Organization summarizes two high level drone focused events that occured during 2022. Remotely-piloted and unmanned aircraft systems (RPAS 2022) and Drone Enable 2022.

  • DRONE ENABLE Day 1 discussion focused on ATM/UTM (Air Traffic Management/Unmanned Traffic Management) integration. Currently flight operations in civil airspace are categorized into two types, visual flight rules (VFR) and instrument flight rules (IFR). During this session it was acknowledged that so called "Digital Flight Rules" will be a necessary part of the uncrewed ecosystem and standards are yet to be established.

  • On Day 3 of Drone Enable UTM Data Requirements were discussed. Ultimately it was acknowledged that UTM and ATM will further integrate, that both systems use high quantities of data, and that the current challenge and opportunity is to optimize the use of data to both improve performance and reduce costs.

Infrastructure:

  • The Aviation Planning Group is helping companies "prepare for the next chapter in aviation". Services include: Vertiport planning & design, AAM System Planning, eVTOL integration, and Modular terminal

  • In the last issue of this publication we highlighted the lack of private equity funding to develop AAM infrastructure as compared to the level of investment that has already been spent to develop next generation aircraft. Also worth further mentioning, infrastructure is not only a government responsibility in this case.

  • It is important for Unmanned Cargo Update readers to understand that utilizing next generation eVTOL aircraft will eliminate the need for traditional airports, thus enabling any private corporation the ability to invest in building an approved vertiport for passenger, cargo, or mixed operations.

Business:

  • This article predicts "The introduction of autonomous aircraft into the civil aviation mix will begin with small cargo planes." Having a full grasp on the intersection of where unmanned operations and commercial aviation meet is why Time On Target Solutions continues to further these conversations with potential partners and customers.

  • Interesting insight into Xwing's business plans and potentially largest customer. They mention FedEx operates about 240 Cessna 208's, in my mind this also spurs MRO modification business. Remember Xwing is a developer and possibly manufacturer, installing and retrofitting aircraft with Xwing autonomy kits will be big business during this transitory period of regional cargo. My prediction is that generation 2 of these retrofits will install an electric motor in addition to autonomy kits unlocking even more cargo capacity.

  • If nothing else scroll down to the "Ready for Take Off" timeline. According to Kelleher's assessment the first self-flying cargo planes will enter civil aviation, sharing the skies with piloted airplanes, 2025 - 2026. We agree with this assessment and are currently taking the steps to enter this market when aircraft technology and regulations reach sufficient maturity.

  • In describing Dronamics position in the industry, Mike Butcher did a good job at summing up a few of the major players in the middle-mile cargo OEM space. (ElroyAir, Natilus, Beta)

  • I've been following articles and press releases about the Black Swan aircraft developing over the last couple years. I'm very impressed as its one of the few designs that set out to service the cargo market from the beginning. They have embraced this concept by dubbing the Black Swan a "flying delivery van".

  • Interesting that Dronamics will hold on to the OEM/operator model in the EU & MENA markets. As of now they "sell capacity not aircraft" but historically that hasn't been a true or successful model for aircraft manufacturers on a large scale.

Reader Submissions:

  • Even though this particular platform is not middle-mile cargo focused, as an aerospace professional & enthusiast I had to share this revolutionary design with the community.

  • If you do nothing else, watch the YouTube video.

  • I say this often, and in this case it holds especially true, I am sincerely amazed at the new and unique aircraft designs I am exposed to on an almost daily basis. I would go as far to say that we are experiencing somewhat of a renaissance period in aviation, and it's an awesome time to be in the industry.

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