The Chinese eVTOL developer Autoflight has revealed its newest cargo drone, the V400 “Albatross,” as it continues to pursue even larger models for logistics and passenger transportation.
Autoflight debuted the V400 on Sept. 13 at the World UAV Federation’s 2020 Drone World Congress in Shenzhen, China. With a wingspan of nine meters (29.5 feet) and an airframe made from high-strength carbon fiber, the V400 will have a maximum takeoff weight of 400 kilograms (880 pounds) and a payload of 100 kg (220 lb.).
The company is developing two versions of the Albatross: a fully electric model with a target range of 300 kilometers (186 miles) with full payload, and a hybrid-electric version with a range up to 1,000 km (620 mi). The aircraft is designed for a maximum VTOL take-off altitude of 5,000 m (16,400 feet).
The V400 uses eight lifting propellers powered by individual electric motors for vertical take-offs and landings. The fully electric model features two cruising motors in push-pull configuration, while the hybrid model has a single combustion engine at the rear for cruising. According to Autoflight, the aircraft’s canard layout affords a higher lift-to-drag ratio and stall-resistant aerodynamic performance.
With a flight control system designed in house, multiple sensors and radar to assist with take-offs and landings, plus sense-and-avoid capability, the V400 will be capable of fully autonomous flight. It has integrated 4G and 5G mobile network function for multi-channel communication, and an option for a whole airframe parachute for additional safety.
Autoflight said it has completed construction of the V400 prototype and expects to perform its maiden flight by the end of this year. The company is now accepting orders for the aircraft, which it said can be used for express delivery, disaster relief, first response, and other applications.
The V400 builds on the success of Autoflight’s smaller cargo drones, including the V50 “White Shark,” which earlier this year set a flight duration record of over six hours. The company was established in 2016 by Tian Yu, a pioneer in electric aviation who previously founded Yuneec, a maker of consumer drones and electric ultra-light aircraft. Autoflight is headquartered in Shanghai, with research and development facilities in Munich, Germany, and Shenzhen, China.
In a press release announcing the V400, the company explained that, due to the current state of regulations, it sees cargo drones as a more viable application for eVTOL technology in the near term, with urban air mobility (UAM) “a promising market further down the road.” Autoflight said it believes that the V400 will meet all of the requirements of the Civil Aviation Administration of China and thus has a clear path to commercialization in that country.
However, Autoflight is also hopeful that its work on the V400 will advance its progress toward passenger-carrying autonomous flight, as the company “believes that the research, design, certification, and mass production of eVTOL with large payload capacity are fundamental to the commercialization of the UAM vision.”
The company has already presented a two-seat eVTOL concept — the V600, unveiled at AERO Friedrichshafen in 2019 — as well as an even larger eVTOL cargo drone concept, the V1000. The company said it plans to share more about these models “in the near future.”