Airbus trials cargo drone designed to carry 250 kg over 300 km

Airbus cargo drone

European aircraft and aerospace giant Airbus says it successfully tested a small-scale demonstration version of its future “cargo copter” drone, which is designed to transport 250 kg of payload across a maximum range of just over 300 kilometers.

The demonstration model of the heavy-load cargo drone was flown in trial missions by Airbus’s UAS New Programmes group, which worked on the project with its rapid-development X-Works team. Its initial deployment is planned for military transport – which explains why the UAV was put through the paces during large robotic exercises staged in September by the Portuguese Navy and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. 

But like many current aerial assets being worked up with defense operations in mind, the Airbus freight drone could be adapted to various kinds of heavy-lift cargo enterprise uses.

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Indeed, one of the conceptual features that was validated during the trials was the modular, “system-of-systems” design that permits fast loading and unloading of a variety of payloads, and equally rapid battery replacement – both potential benefits to military and business users alike.

The Airbus cargo drone is also equipped with tech permitting it to perform intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance for military operators while it carries out primary freight transport missions. That tech, too, could be eventually replaced with sensors and other equipment adapted to commercial communication and data gathering objectives added to the principal tasks assigned to the heavy-lift UAV.

Airbus officials also cheered the flawless performance of the scaled-down version of their cargo drone during exercises crowded with 1,500 military personnel, and scores of other robotic vehicles all working at once in a relatively small area of Portugal’s Troia Peninsula region.

“This was a great opportunity to trial our small-scale demonstrator in realistic conditions,” explains Jens Federhen, head of the Airbus X-Works team that produced the cargo drone prototype. “Performing the demonstrations in such a demanding environment – surrounded by six research ships, 11 warships, and 120 uncrewed systems around us – was extremely challenging, and at the same time very productive, as we have been able to learn and create useful collaboration links.”

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The small-scale test model is a 35 kg (77 lb.) vertical takeoff and landing craft which – as the final, full-sized cargo drone will be ­– was equipped with Airbus’s DeckFind tech that ensures safe automatic landing on the surfaces of ships. That larger production UAV will carry 250 kg of payload at a range Airbus estimates at just over 300 kilometers.

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