A California startup promising to build an electric long-distance cargo drone announced yesterday that it has raised 140 percent of its initial angel funding goal. Sabrewing Aircraft Company CEO Ed De Reyes said the company had raised just shy of US$1 million from The Drone Fund, Integro LTD and two other investors.
The funds will be used to construct a large-scale, long-endurance, high-cargo-capacity unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that its manufacturer says will be able to compete with small cargo aircraft such as the Cessna 208, in terms of cost, range, and payload.
While cargo drones are on the cusp of going mainstream, with big players like Boeing getting into the game, the model presented by Sabrewing Aircraft Co. could be the first electric cargo drone with the sort of range normally reserved for large fixed-wing aircraft. The UAV, dubbed “The Draco-2” will eventually carry up to two tons, for a maximum distance of 5,000 miles – for up to 50 hours – at altitudes reaching 22,000 feet.
“Work on a heavy-lift, long-distance UAV has been progressing over several years, we have designed and built several UAVs since 2002,” said De Reyes. “Our team has been working together on a UAV specifically to fill the need for a UAV that can carry cargo in the range from 2,000 to 4,000 pounds.”
Reyes explained to Air Cargo World that the cargo drone would be a gas-electric hybrid “designed to use the same fuel, tools, technicians and airfields that air cargo carriers currently use.” He explained that as a gas-electric hybrid, the drone uses electric motors for propulsion. When coupled with Sabrewing Aircraft’s patent-pending active drag reduction, Reyes said the drone could achieve high-cargo loading at about 10 gallons per hour of Jet-A. Think “Flying Prius Delivery Van” as opposed to “Solar Impulse,” he said.
Sabrewing’s full-scale UAV will be about the size of the Cessna 208 Caravan, a cargo-carrying staple on feeder routes for FedEx and regional cargo carriers, with similar acquisition costs and operational speed. Sabrewing’s UAV is primarily meant to serve both military and civilian cargo operations, and is “priced well below the Caravan’s operating and maintenance costs, while still providing greater range and payload.
“We’re building a drone that can fill the role of a mid-altitude, long-endurance cargo UAV,” De Reyes continued. “Our team has previously built a large-scale, manned air vehicle about the size of our demonstrator; now we’re taking the data and experience that we’ve gathered and building a UAV that can incorporate autonomy, economy, endurance and reliability.”