Drone manufacturer Pyka announced its entry into the cargo market Monday with what it claims is the world’s largest, zero-emission, autonomous cargo aircraft.
Dubbed the “Pelican Cargo,” the new, nose-loading, electric drone platform will be able to carry 181 kg of cargo up to ranges of 173 nautical miles at around 80-90 knots, according to Oakland, Calif.-based Pyka.
Pyka began developing the Pelican Cargo in 2021 and owes its origins to the notoriety in the industry to its sister drone, the Pelican Spray, which has already been deployed in agricultural spraying operations in Latin America.
“We were continuously and repeatedly approached by logistics providers, e-commerce platforms and express delivery servers,” Pyka Chief Commercial Officer Volker Fabian told Cargo Facts.
Three launch customers, including drone solutions company Skyports and two other firms in North America and the Caribbean, have placed orders and options for a total of eighty aircraft, Fabian said.
Awaiting FAA exemption
Pyka said that it hopes to certify the Pelican Cargo in a similar way to the Pelican Spray, using what is known as a 4487 exemption for commercial operations in North America. The Pelican Spray’s exemption was filed two years ago, according to Pyka.
“The FAA has seen everything: the airplane, the manuals, training manuals, maintenance manuals, and is satisfied with what they have seen and is in the process of drafting the exemption but that hasn’t been issued yet,” Fabian said, adding that Pyka is currently testing the aircraft, which had its first flight at the Flying M Ranch in California in December 2022.
“We are expecting to pick up things here and there that we want to improve upon, but the performance has been outstanding actually,” Fabian said. “It has performed remarkably well.”
The Pelican Cargo will have the ruggedness of its agricultural sister, according to Pyka. “The airplane can operate off gravel [and] it can operate off grass strips — it just needs a half-prepared runway, essentially,” Fabian said.
When testing is complete, the Pelican will begin demonstration flights in the U.K. around the end of Q1 with commercial operation in the second half of 2023, Pyka said.
The Pelican Cargo is powered by two electric engines with a total of 100 kilowatts that Pyka designed and custom built for the aircraft. Certain manufacturers assemble subsystems designed by Pyka that the company brings in for final assembly at its facility, Pyka told Cargo Facts
The same day that the new Pelican Cargo was unveiled, U.K. based Dronamics announced a partnership with Quickstep to begin low-rate-initial production of its Black Swan drone. Like the Pelican Cargo, the Black Swan features a conventional design, powered by a Rotax combustion engine, it will be able to carry up to 350 kg of cargo up to 1,349 nautical miles. The fixed-wing Black Swan drone will be the first to fly under a European Union operational license for beyond visual line of sight operations in all EU member states.
Other conventional drones include autonomous platforms of the Cessna 208B developed by X Wing and Reliable Robotics, and the new Twin Tail Scorpion being developed by China-based Tengden.
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