Sabrewing Aircraft Company plans to reveal its full-sized Rhaegal-A cargo drone during the U.S. Air Force’s Agility Prime launch event next week.
The roll-out of the aircraft at Hayward Executive Airport in California will be live-streamed starting at 1 p.m. Pacific time on Friday, May 1. The reveal will cap off a week of online sessions for the virtual launch event, which was organized after an in-person launch at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.
Agility Prime is an Air Force initiative to accelerate development of the commercial eVTOL industry, with the goal of adapting commercial technology for military logistics missions at significant savings to the taxpayer. Sabrewing announced on April 21 that as part of the Agility Prime program, it has received an AFWERX Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II contract valued at $3.25 million.
According to Sabrewing CEO Ed De Reyes, the two-year contract will evaluate not only the autonomous aircraft’s overall performance, but also its detect-and-avoid system and its ability to operate in GPS-denied environments. “In the military, if you’re trying to deliver cargo to a combat zone, GPS may not be available,” he pointed out.
The Air Force will also explore Rhaegal’s potential for casualty evacuation. De Reyes added that other branches of the U.S. military could potentially piggyback onto the AFWERX contract: “We have two other branches that are very interested and have already expressed the desire to add money so that we can demonstrate their specific missions on our aircraft.”
Rhaegal is a hybrid-electric VTOL aircraft that incorporates four tilting, ducted fans, plus a wing for high-speed forward flight. Its “turbo-electric” drive train uses a turbine engine to drive generators that supply electricity to the four ducted fans. While Sabrewing has not yet disclosed its engine partner for the program, De Reyes said that announcement will also be made at the May 1 roll-out.
“We did talk with multiple engine manufacturers,” he told eVTOL.com. “Finally at this point we have made the decision as to who we’ve chosen, and we’re very happy with it.”
With the ability to lift around a ton of cargo, Rhaegal-A is already larger than many of the cargo drones now in development. Yet according to De Reyes, it is still only about half the scale of Sabrewing’s production model, Rhaegal-B.
The B model is targeting a VTOL payload capacity of 5,400 pounds (2,450 kilograms), a range of 1,000 nautical miles (1,850 kilometers) at altitudes of up to 22,000 feet, and speeds of up to 200 knots (370 km/h). It will also have the ability to take off and land like a conventional airplane, increasing its payload capacity to over 10,000 lb. (4,500 kg).
De Reyes said that Sabrewing has already received a significant commercial order for Rhaegal, and may soon be able to share more details about that as well. The company has been engaging with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration for over two years to design a certification program for the aircraft under Federal Aviation Regulations part 23, and aims to begin certification flight testing as early as this summer, he added.