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Pipistrel to develop heavy cargo hybrid VTOL drone for SF Express

Together with its Munich-based subsidiary, Amazilia Aerospace, SF Express has partnered with Pipistrel, a Slovenian aerospace company, to accelerate the development of commercial large-scale UAV operations. The Munich-based company will deliver an advanced digital flight control and vehicle management system for an innovative VTOL cargo drone designed and manufactured by Pipistrel.

SF Express intends to use the aircraft, especially in remote and hard-to-reach areas. The modified Nuuva electric cargo drone will be able to lift more than 300 kg of cargo in a 2.3 cubic meters volume space over a range of 500 km (311 miles). It must be able to fly at cruising altitudes up to 6000 meters and VTOL capability up to 2500 meters above sea level. Pipistrel specifically designed the aircraft to meet these demanding conditions.

The large commercial drone will be equipped with eight vertical-lift packages, each consisting of Pipistrel’s E-811 EASA Type certified powered rotor with highly efficient batteries. Together, the rotors ensure safe operation even if two of them are not operating.

While Pipistrel had announced that it had chosen Honeywell’s flight control system for the V300 and V20, Amazilia Aerospace will supply the Automatic Flight Control System and Vehicle Management System (AFCS/VMS) for SF Express’s eVTOL drone. The system includes aircraft hardware and software that can automate the entire cargo delivery mission. It can be installed in both VTOL and conventional aircraft configurations.

The first prototype of the device is expected to make its first flight by the end of 2021, and in 2022 it will undergo flight tests in China. SF Express, which estimates its need at 1,000 units over ten years, plans to deploy the HVTOL cargo drone fleet in their domestic and non-domestic business operations by 2023.

Our efforts to achieve 36-hour countrywide delivery throughout China face significant challenges, such as natural barriers, underdeveloped logistics infrastructure, and more, especially in rural China,” says Li Dongqi, SF Express VP & SF UAS Chairman.

SF Express intends to adopt cargo VTOL drones to solve this bottleneck due to their flexibility and high speed, which is on par with helicopters and has low costs, which are competitive with truck delivery. The high-altitude capability allows us to extend our civil air cargo service coverage to even difficult-to-reach mountainous areas. We believe VTOL drones will become a major vehicle in China, and SF Express alone will need more than 1000 in the next ten years.”

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