A California-based startup, Sabrewing Aircraft, announced that its RH-1-A Rhaegal VTOL air cargo drone had achieved its first hover flight while lifting a record-setting payload. This pre-production air vehicle, also known as the RG-1-A “Alpha” model, was able to lift a record-breaking 829-pound (374 kg) payload, shattering the previous world record for the dead-lift of any commercial, vertical takeoff, uncrewed air vehicle (UAV).
The Rhaegal Alpha aircraft is the world’s first autonomous cargo aircraft capable of both vertical and conventional takeoff and is designed to take tons of cargo to any location on Earth in almost any weather.
The company made vast improvements to the blades, ducts, and shape of the shroud of the aircraft’s ducted fans, which allowed each dust to produce 30% more thrust than it was originally designed to provide. These improvements contributed to the aircraft’s ability to lift the record-shattering payload.
The cargo drone has a wingspan of 17-meter, a length of 14.6 meters, a height of 4.6 meters, and over 675 cubic feet (19 cubic meters) of cargo space. The pre-production prototype aircraft weighed just over 1,225 kg for the first flight and is capable of a maximum gross weight of up to 1,406 kg at altitudes up to 22,000 feet (6700 meters) and 200 knots (370 km/h). When taking off conventionally, this aircraft has enough thrust to carry over 2 tons of cargo with the same range, altitude, speed, and efficiency.
The Rhaegal aircraft uses a turbo-electric drivetrain based on Safran’s Helicopter Engines turbine-based motor, the Ariel 2E. It can operate on 50% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and turns an electric generator that produces nearly 1 megawatt of electric energy, which in turn powers electric motors in each of the four ducted fans.
Rhaegal claims it can lift 10 times more cargo than its closest competitor and can fly five times farther. The drone is capable of a range of missions besides heavy lift cargo – including search and rescue, firefighting, disaster relief, medical deliveries, and even fuel and water deliveries. In addition, it can operate in any airspace – from the most congested city to the most remote location.
The aircraft was developed in partnership with a number of collaborators, including Safran, The Ohio State University, UCLA, and Oklahoma University. The company says its first 28 aircraft are due to begin deliveries to the first customer by December of 2023.