Pyka and Sierra Nevada team up to deliver massive cargo drone to US Department of Defense

The companies behind an autonomous, all-electric drone the size of a school bus, designed for contested military operations, are now seeking customers within the U.S. Department of Defense.

Pyka, a manufacturer of electric unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), partnered with aerospace and defense contractor Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) on Monday to introduce a variant of its flagship Pelican Cargo drone to the use of the DOD.

“SNC has extensive experience modifying products from the Silicon Valley technology ecosystem to meet DOD requirements, and is committed to making cutting-edge technology like Pelican Cargo available to the United States Government” , said Michael Norcia, co-founder and CEO of Pyka. .

The cargo version of the Pelican, which is also available in a crop-spraying configuration, Pelican Spray, is the world’s largest zero-emission cargo aircraft, according to Pyka.

Unveiled in January, the UAS features a massive payload of 400 pounds and a cargo volume of 70 cubic feet, far larger than what is seen on a typical delivery drone. It has a length of approximately 22 feet and a wingspan of 38 feet, with a range of up to 200 miles and a cruising speed of 60 to 70 knots.

“Pyka’s Pelican Cargo is unlike any other UAS solution on the market for contested logistics,” said Michael Bertman, vice president of programs at SNC. “We evaluated a number of industry-leading capabilities and concluded that the Pelican Cargo significantly outperforms any other platform. It is the only fully electric cargo aircraft suitable for an austere environment and with such autonomy, payload capacity and cargo volume.

Pyka and SNC together introduced RumRunner, a modified version of Pelican Cargo that also has a 400-pound payload and 200-mile range, but was designed specifically for defense applications.

The UAS has four electric motors powered by triple-redundant batteries, which can be recharged in one hour or replaced in five minutes. It flies fully autonomously using Pyka’s proprietary flight engine, which processes millions of inputs per second from the aircraft’s lidar, downward-facing lasers, inertial measurement units and booms aerial data. The system uses 3D aerial mapping and dynamic path planning to detect obstacles.

One of the key features of the zero-emission design is its ultra-short takeoff and landing (SSTOL) capability. With a full payload, Pelican Cargo only needs 500 feet of runway to take off. According to Pyka, this allows operations with “an order of magnitude less infrastructure than before.”

In addition, the drone can operate at night thanks to GPS and laser or radar navigation. It can be loaded in just five minutes, Pyka says, using a nose-loading configuration with a sliding loading tray.

“Creating a more diverse, distributed and viable supply chain should be the primary driver in terms of interest from DOD,” Bertman said. “The fuel-free component minimizes the need for bulk fuel at the advanced stage, significantly reducing the logistics tail normally associated with resupply operations. This presents opportunities to increase the survivability of our military, reduce risk to the force, and transform the way military operations have historically been conducted.

Pyka, like many manufacturers of electric or autonomous aircraft, also maintains relationships with AFWERX, the innovation branch of the US Air Force. In February, it delivered the first of three Pelican Cargo aircraft, leased from AFWERX, to New Braunfels National Airport (KBAZ) in Texas, where Air Force personnel will explore its defense applications.

Pyka has pre-commitments on more than 80 orders and options for Pelican Cargo so far from three launch customers in North America and Europe, including London-based Skyports Drone Services.

In March, the manufacturer secured a 110,000-square-foot headquarters and production facility in Alameda, California, the site of the historic Alameda Naval Air Station. It will use these facilities to design, develop and manufacture large-scale aircraft following its installation at the site later this year.

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