SF Express, the Chinese integrated logistics provider, intends to expand its delivery network fleet through the deployment of large cargo unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capability.
To accomplish the expansion, SF Express has partnered with its Munich-based subsidiary, Amazilia Aerospace, and Slovenian aerospace OEM Pipistrel. The synergies achieved via this agreement will ultimately accelerate the development of a commercial large scale UAV operation. Amazilia Aerospace will deliver an advanced digital flight control and vehicle management system for an innovative VTOL cargo drone designed and manufactured by Pipistrel.
SF Express is in pursuit of a VTOL aircraft capable of service in the environment of remote and isolated areas. Specifically, the envisioned aircraft will be able to lift more than 300 kg of cargo in a 2.3m³ volume space over a range of 500km with cruising altitudes up to 6000m and VTOL capability up to 2500m above sea level. Pipistrel specifically designed the aircraft to meet these demanding requirements. Further, the aircraft will be equipped with 8 vertical-lift packages each consisting of a Pipistrel E-811 EASA Type certified powered rotor with highly efficient and redundant battery packs that assure safe operation even if 2 rotors are inoperative. The aircraft design and component production of the prototype will be carried out in Pipistrel facilities.
The Amazilia Aerospace Automatic Flight Con
Amazilia Aerospace builds on years of research at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) reinforced with aerospace industry experience. The team will develop and deliver an ACFS/VMS which is compliant to aerospace industry standards. This system is not only compatible with the economics of unmanned aerial cargo transport but also scalable and versatile, which integrates well with a variety of aircraft types and sizes.
The aircraft prototype is scheduled to undergo flight testing with the Amazilia Aerospace system in Europe followed by operational validation in China starting in 2022. By 2023, SF Express intends to deploy the HVTOL cargo drone fleet in their domestic and non-domestic business operations.
Why it’s important: In a well-articulated address of the challenges and opportunities ahead, SF EXPRESS VP & SF UAS Chairman LI Dongqi said the following: “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. 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 10 years. ”
Source // Pipistrel press release