Dallas-Based Ameriflight Plans to Buy 35 Autonomous Air Cargo Drones With ‘Record-Breaking’ Payload Capacity

The Rhaegal-A VTOL is the world's first autonomous cargo aircraft with the capability of vertical and conventional takeoff. It recently broke the world record for "dead-lift" among air vehicles in its category, according to Sabrewing Aircraft Company.

Cargo is already being trucked from Dallas-Fort Worth with driver-free autonomous technology. So could we one day see pilotless cargo flights buzzing out of the region too? 

We got one step closer to that yesterday. Dallas-based Ameriflight, the nation’s largest Part 135 Cargo airline, announced it has signed a letter of intent to purchase 35 VTOL air cargo drones from the Sabrewing Aircraft Company. The news comes just weeks after Ameriflight announced an agreement to purchase 20 autonomous Kona cargo aircraft from California-based Natilus.

Shattering a world payload record with its first hover flight

Sabrewing set a new world record in September with the first hover flight of its Rhaegal-A air cargo drone (above). The drone lifted a record-breaking 829-pound payload, “shattering the previous world record for the “dead-lift” of any commercial, vertical takeoff, uncrewed air vehicle,” according to Sabrewing.

The aircraft is the world’s first autonomous cargo aircraft capable of both vertical and conventional take-off, Sabrewing says, and is “designed to take tons of cargo to any location on Earth, in almost any weather.”

When taking off conventionally, the Rhaegal-A has enough thrust to carry over two tons of cargo, the company added.

Ameriflight said it expects to take delivery of the 35 cargo drones “following type certification of the aircraft.”

Expanding services with ‘warehouse distribution operations’

Ameriflight President and COO Alan Rusinowitz [Photo: Business Wire]

“In looking to the future, adding this advanced aircraft to our portfolio will complement our fleet and increase our assortment of assets, allowing us to expand our service areas through the development of warehouse distribution operations,” Ameriflight President and COO Alan Rusinowitz said in a statement.

“With a payload capability of 2,000-plus pounds, the Rhaegal-A is perfectly suited for the medium-lift category operation,” he added. “Sabrewing’s record-setting technology guiding Rhaegal-A as the world’s first autonomous cargo aircraft capable of both vertical and conventional take-off is an incredible milestone, and we’re excited to partner with them on this new fleet.”

Uses SAF fuel, reducing carbon emissions by up to 80%

Sabrewing is in the process of initiating the Rhaegal-A’s production line, with first deliveries slated for Q1 2024. Design innovations give the Rhaegal-A the ability to use sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), “reducing carbon emissions by up to 80%, while maintaining the efficiency to fly cargo between facilities four times faster than can be driven and land in locations other aircraft cannot, eliminating the added cost of airport transfer of cargo,” according to Ameriflight.

The Rhaegal-A fleet will be used to support Ameriflight’s new business opportunities, primarily for its expedited supply chain services, the company said. 

Marks Ameriflight’s second shopping trip for autonomous aircraft

Ameriflight signed agreement in January 2023 to purchase 20 Kona autonomous aircraft from Natilus. [Photo: Ameriflight]

The Rhaegal-A move is Ameriflight’s second agreement to purchase autonomous aircraft. Ameriflight signed with Natilus just last month on the purchase of 20 Kona aircraft—a 3.8-ton payload, short-haul feeder uncrewed aerial vehicle.

Ameriflight says it plans to use both fleet types in tandem with its current operation.

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