New autonomous aircraft offers 181 kg payload

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by Emily Atkins

Autonomous aircraft builder Pyka has unveiled what it calls the world’s largest zero-emission cargo airplane and the first autonomous vehicle of its class.

The Pelican Cargo has a range of up to 200 miles (322 km), a payload of up to 400 pounds (181 kg) in 66 cubic feet (1.9 cubic metres) of cargo volume and a nose-loading system with a sliding cargo tray.

The company says the drone will help provide connectivity for remote rural communities, and ensure fast and reliable access to vital goods and supplies for areas in need.

Michael Norica

“Pelican Cargo will have a significant positive impact on people’s lives,” says Pyka CEO and co-founder, Michael Norcia.

“We designed this plane to eliminate CO2 emissions from the logistics chain, while offering a significant speed advantage over ground transportation and operating costs at a fraction of conventional air transportation.”

Following the commercial success of its agricultural spray aircraft, which led to a US$37 million Series A funding round in April 2022, Pyka has secured pre-commitments of over 80 orders and options for its Pelican Cargo from three launch customers across North America and Europe.

The aircraft is currently undergoing testing at Pyka’s flight test facility in Northern California. The first commercial operation of the new product is expected for the second half of 2023.

“We operate a carefully selected fleet of UAS platforms across our markets, each of which has been chosen due to its operational capabilities and unrivaled performance,” says Alex Brown, director, Skyports Drone Services, one of Pyka’s launch customers for Pelican Cargo.

“Welcoming the Pelican Cargo aircraft into our fleet will enable us to continue on our mission of solving complex logistical and operational challenges with tailored drone services. We know a thing or two about drones and in our eyes, the Pelican Cargo is the most advanced product in its payload class on the market. We’re excited to kickstart operations with Pyka and put the Pelican through its paces.”

Pyka was formed in 2017, in Norica’s family garage. Its first commercial product was a crop duster. The company’s technology includes autonomous flight control software, flight computers, high energy density batteries, electric propulsion systems, and carbon composite airframes.