US cargo airline Ameriflight has continued showing interest in conceptual autonomous cargo aircraft by signing a letter of intent to purchase 35 vertical take-off and landing drones from California start-up Sabrewing Aircraft.
The Part 135 cargo airline entered an agreement for Sabrewing’s Rhaegal-A aircraft and expects to take delivery following type certification by the Federal Aviation Administration, it said on 14 February.
Neither Ameriflight nor Sabrewing have disclosed financial terms of the deal, nor specified whether Ameriflight backed the agreement with a cash down-payment.
The Dallas-headquartered company – which operates about 150 aircraft and carries cargo for FedEx, DHL and UPS – says the in-development cargo drones would allow it to “enter new business opportunities in distribution centre logistics”.
“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,” says Alan Rusinowitz, Ameriflight’s chief operating officer.
Founded in 2016, Sabrewing built its prototype cargo done in Hayward, California. The Rhaegal-A achieved its first hover flight in September 2022, lifting more than 376kg (829lb), the company says.
Sabrewing is building its production line and expects to begin delivering the drones in the first quarter of 2024, though certification from the FAA remains a hurdle.
Projected to be capable of hauling about 907kg of cargo, the autonomous freighters would be employed for “medium-lift” operations, Ameriflight says, allowing the hauler to carry more than one tonne of cargo to off-airport “alternative landing zones”, which in turn would help its customers develop faster and more efficient delivery networks, the company says.
“For Ameriflight, this will be a complementary service, not replacing their current flying operation, aircraft, or pilots,” Ameriflight says. “The company’s goal is to build diversified aviation services.”
Late in January, Ameriflight signalled its intention to purchase 20 conceptual autonomous cargo aircraft being developed by another California start-up, Natilus.
Natilus’ Kona turboprop regional aircraft will feature a blended-wing-body design and lower operating costs than current freighters, that firm says. It values Ameriflight’s purchase agreement at $134 million.