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Issue #8 (202308)
The Unmanned Cargo Update blog series highlights developments related to logistics in the uncrewed middle-mile air cargo (UMMAC) sector, an industry yet to exist.
We discovered this interesting design through the sUAS News press release British/Turkish Delivery Drones Manufacturer Cargo Tron is joining the Drone Logistics Eco System. This eVTOL platform utilizes a cargo pod system, and the wings fold down to also serve as landing gear. It sports a hybrid power generation system, utilizes six rotors to hover and an aft push prop during wing-born flight.
The CargoTron PD250 is positioned to service both last and middle-mile business logistics needs, requiring an operational footprint of just under forty-five feet. Its advertised specs are to transport up to 550 lbs a distance of 370 miles. Let’s put that into perspective as compared to other UMMAC-focused designs we have highlighted in this series: Elroy Air - Chaparral (300 lbs / 300 miles); Dufour Aerospace - Aero2 (88 lbs / 200 miles); Pyka - Pelican Cargo (400 lbs / 200 miles); and MightyFly (500 lbs / 600 miles).
Time to get familiar with some shipping/logistics industry terms CargoTron highlights on their website: LTL - less than truckload, LSP - logistics service providers, 3PL - third party logistics.
The discussions and comments quoted in this article occurred at the Global Urban & Advanced Air Summit in Singapore where leadership in the regulatory space came together to discuss “standardizaion theory”. In attendance were the chair of the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), chief technology officer and senior director for the unmanned systems group of the Civil Aviation Authority Singapore (CAAS), EASA’s drones section manager, and the FAA director for the Asia Pacific region for the Office of International Affairs.
EASA’s official is looking to OEMs for engagement with authorities to foster standards development and harmonization. In other words, lobbying. But at the same time, he is “hearing that there is a reluctance in active engagement in standards.” He elaborates by explaining “It goes with the territory of innovative technology—having people within the regulator who can understand that innovative technology and be able to work sensibly to engage with the sector”
One solid point the EASA official did make was that many of the new aircraft innovators lack an aerospace background and “potentially see things through a different lens”. This is a topic we have highlighted a few times and will continue to focus on. It's important to understand that Boeing, Airbus, Gulfstream, or even Cessna Aircraft didn't become industry leaders overnight with the certification of their first aircraft. Furthermore, none of these legacy companies are vertically integrated as designers, manufacturers, and operators; which is what many of these new entrants are trying to achieve with the certification of their first platform.
It's important to understand that it took many organizations working together to make this happen. With NAVOS Air leading the charge they received a grant from the Virginia Commonwealth Center of Innovation for Autonomous Systems (C2IAS). This grant was funded by the Virginia Innovations Partnership Corporation (VIPC) and it enabled NAVOS to coordinate the resources and efforts of the Virginia Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP), Textron Systems, and UAV Pro for the proof of concept research.
Some interesting numbers are cited in this article which are based on a VIPC funded economic impact study conducted early in 2023. The study assesses Virginia has the potential to generate $16 billion in new business activity and create more than 17,000 full-time jobs in the aerospace and supporting industries during the next 23 years. It also predicts by the year 2045 an estimated 21,000 passengers per day will travel in AAM aircraft within Virginia. No mention of the potential economic impact that UMMAC business could add to this figure.
This is an awesome achievement in moving AAM / UTM forward, but before everyone gets too excited the article also states “FAA has issued the first conditional approval which creates a path to establish the first licensed public-use Vertiport”. Not sure what the rest of the steps in this process are, and more than likely neither does the FAA at this point. We wish NAVOS Air and the rest of their collaborators the best of luck in navigating the remaining steps in fully licensing and going operational with the first public-use Vertiport in the country.
Kaman Air Vehicles and Near Earth Autonomy are well-respected industry leaders, and proven innovators in the aerospace/defense industry. The Navy/Marine Corps selected the KARGO platform for their medium unmanned logistics system (MULS-A) program in 2022, and the hybrid VTOL has now gained the confidence of the U.S. Army as well.
The award of this contract is good for the commercial UMMAC industry in many ways. It's well understood that defense funding for technology maturation quickly makes a path to commercialization. Through military operational testing, Kaman and Near Earth Autonomy will be able to evolve the KARGO design and acquire the data to answer FAA questions for commercial certification. Should the Army or Navy select the KARGO as a program of record the manufacturing economies of scale should ultimately drive down prices for both defense and commercial operators alike.
We have to remember Kaman Air Vehicles has a proven aerospace pedigree and is an OG when it comes to heavy-lift autonomy. When they state the KARGO specs as 800 lbs / 500 nautical miles (one way) we tend to believe them. Kaman has been developing technology and executing uncrewed logistics since the 2010’s when they used the K-MAX to compete for the first Marine Corps contract to support troops in Afghanistan.
If you know of a business looking to employ the civilian version of the KARGO aircraft for uncrewed middle-mile air cargo logistics, we would be very interested to explore a partnership!
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