Pipistrel’s triple alliance with SF Express, a Chinese package delivery enterprise, and Amazilia, a software/hardware firm in Germany, will help fulfill high-flying ambitions. Pipistrel, a well-established company with its roots in Slovenia, already has affiliates in Italy, China, and the USA. Now, its partnership with SF Express and Amazilia has obvious links to the need to keep things on track in transporting people and cargo with the new eVTOLs (electric Vertical Take Off and Landing) vehicles Pipistrel is developing. SF Express is a huge “logistics” firm, delivering packages throughout all of China. “Amazilia Aerospace is a young engineering company in the heart of Munich, Germany, developing digital flight control, flight guidance, and vehicle management systems for civil manned and unmanned aircraft.”
Pipistrel is crafting a “heavy cargo hybrid VTOL drone” for SF Express, capable of taking products anywhere in China within 36 hours – a significant challenge in such a huge country. It needs to be able to climb over mountains and traverse long distances in that quest. It will carry over 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of cargo in a 2.3 cubic meter (81.2 cubic feet) space – equivalent to the space in a minivan. Pipistrel’s cargo hauler has a range of 500km (310 miles) with cruising altitudes up to 6, 000 meters (19,685 feet) and VTOL capability up to 2500 meters (8,200 feet) above sea level.
For each of the 1,000 projected cargo hybrids, eight European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA)-certified Pipistel E-811 vertical lift packages will be required. “Highly efficient and redundant battery packs [will] assure safe operation even if two rotors are inoperative.” Building a thousand airframes and 8,000 motors will put Pipistrel in the front ranks of aircraft production in the next few years.
This makes Pipistrel Founder and CEO Ivo Boscarol proud and happy. He points out “To be chosen by one of the largest logistics companies globally to design and produce a tailor-made line of vehicles for aerial cargo transportation is a solid recognition of Pipistrel’s capability built up on more than a decade of achievements in electric flight. We look forward to becoming even more involved in strategic business solutions on a global scale, where our vehicles will change how aerial logistics work and have further significant impacts to sustainability and quality of life.“
To help guide these cargo haulers on their way, “Amazilia Aerospace will deliver an advanced digital flight control and vehicle management system, their Automatic Flight Control System and Vehicle Management System (AFCS/VMS). Both the avionics hardware and software are capable of automating the entire cargo mission. Designed for VTOL or conventional aircraft configurations, the system seems well-suited for Pipistrel’s design which combines both types of operation. Designed specifically for large scale logistical operations by logistics companies such as SF Express, Amazilia’s systems seems almost melded to such needs. The system partially results from, “Years of research at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) reinforced with aerospace industry experience.”
Pipistrel will flight test the eVTOL, “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.” This will be a connecting flight between large-scale operations with jet cargo planes and “last-mile” deliveries with smaller drones.
Li Dongqi, SF Express Vice President and SF Unmanned Aircraft Systems Chairman, sees great promise in these plans. “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.”