EAA AirVenture

Redesigned Sabrewing Cargo Drone Can Carry Much More

 - July 24, 2019, 8:09 PM

Unmanned cargo aircraft company Sabrewing announced at EAA AirVenture this week that a redesign of its all-composite Rhaegal VTOL aircraft will allow it to increase maximum takeoff weight from 3,000 to 8,000 pounds, giving the aircraft a maximum useful load of 6,000 pounds when operated with conventional takeoff and landing. Sabrewing CEO Ed De Reyes said the performance increase resulted from redesigning the aircraft’s landing gear.

The company has built its order book to $51 million and “more than 10” aircraft, De Reyes said. A good chunk of that—$43 million—is believed to be from one deal the company has with Alaska’s Aleut Community of St. Paul Island (ACSPI), 770 miles west of Anchorage. De Reyes also hinted that the company had a military contract and had signed on with a slew of high-profile companies that will help develop its aircraft, including Garmin, Cobham, engine builder Rolls-Royce, composite maker Tencate, and investment from Japan’s Drone Fund. 

De Reyes said St. Paul’s remote location in the Bering Sea made it an ideal location to establish a test range and that the regular inclement weather there often made the island’s airport useless, dropping visibilities below minimums. The same applies to St. George Island, 40 miles to the south, due to persistent fog. “Our aircraft will allow them to bring supplies in from Anchorage or St. Paul,” De Reyes said. In Alaska, only 17 percent of the communities have regular access roads, railways, airports, or deep-water ports, and helicopters had neither the range nor the cargo capacity to be cost-effective solutions in these types of situations, he said.

“A community in Alaska can be 500 miles from the nearest airport hub. Imagine communities in other parts of the world such as Africa, Australia, Latin America, or Indonesia, where you have enormous communities. The runways they have look like bike paths.” The ultimate goal is to get the aircraft approved for flight into known icing so it can go “where pilots won’t,” De Reyes said. 

“This is the ideal aircraft for hurricane and other natural disaster relief. You can’t get a [Cessna] Caravan into a football pitch or hockey rink,” he said. 

As currently designed, the Rheagal features four electric-powered 32.28-inch-diameter tilting ducted fans driven by electric motors that receive distributed power from a Rolls-Royce M250-47E engine with fadec, the same that powers the Bell 407 helicopter, rated at 600 shp (continuous). The aircraft is projected to burn 144 pounds of fuel per hour and have a capacity of 127 gallons and has a maximum rate of climb of 5,500 fpm. It has a wingspan of 33 feet with ground-folding wings, is 28 feet long, and has 12 feet in height. Maximum cruise speed is expected to be 200 knots and anticipated range is up to 1,000 nm. It will have the capacity to carry either palletized or loose cargo that can be loaded through the nose without a forklift. The Rheagal will be able to be flown by a remote pilot and also has the ability to operate fully autonomously. It can safely operate with a complete loss of communication.