Leading US Part 135 cargo airline Ameriflight is moving to diversify the business it operates for clients like UPS by supplementing its fleet of traditional aircraft with next-generation heavy-lift drones – most recently the brawny UAVs from Oxnard-based startup Sabrewing.
Ameriflight announced it has signed a letter of intent to buy 35 of Sabrewing’s Rhaegal-A heavy-lift cargo drones, which are also being developed under the name “Alpha.” The all-weather UAV has 16 cubic meters of internal payload space. The aerial hulk is capable of carrying over 2,000 lb, and attain maximum speeds of 445 km/h, and average cruise speeds of 333 km/h. It can be operated in vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) mode or with forward thrust on a runway.
Last September the beast set what Sabrewing said was a new world record by hovering with a payload of 347 kg (829 lb.). Not satisfied with that hauling capacity, the company is also developing a Rhaegal-B “Bravo” version designed to carry between 5,400 pounds to 10,000 pounds of cargo.
Read more: Sabrewing’s Rhaegal cargo drone said to set heavy-lift record
Acquisition of the Sabrewing heavy-lift drones is part of Ameriflight’s diversification plan to deploy the craft for regional or other cargo routes considered too short to be financially viable for its traditional aircraft.
That, in part, will offer the liberty of operating the UAVs from myriad non-airport facilities. It is also intended to offer clients affordable air services to shorter distance destinations that may now be provided by land vehicles – and with significant reduction of carbon output over vans or trucks to boot.
“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,” said Ameriflight president Alan Rusinowitz. “With a payload capability of 2,000+ pounds, the Rhaegal-A is perfectly suited for the medium lift category operation. 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 are excited to partner with them on this new fleet.”
The move follows Ameriflight’s agreement with cargo drone company Natilus last month to buy eight of its 3.8-ton payload craft. In November, meanwhile, Sabrewing said it had struck a deal worth about $1 billion to provide both its UAVs under development to the Arabian Development and Marketing Corporation.
Read more: Sabrewing’s record-setting heavy-lift drone signs up Saudi buyers
Though ink on those accords is already dry, clients will have to wait a while before taking delivery. Sabrewing is continuing work on both versions of its heavy-lift cargo drones, and will need to obtain certification of the craft before handing them off to Ameriflight.
The startup says it’s now in the process of initiating its production line, with first deliveries expected in the first quarter of 2024.
“We’re committed to developing advanced, versatile, and efficient air cargo solutions with our best-in-class Rhaegal aircraft that maximize on long range, payload capacity, and sustainable fuel efficiency to successfully deliver on a range of cargo missions,” explained Ed De Reyes, CEO of Sabrewing. “We’re excited to be at the forefront of autonomous innovation and to have Ameriflight at our side, with this new agreement marking the Alpha’s first American launch customer.”