World’s First Successful Autonomous Air Cargo Flight

World’s First Successful Autonomous Air Cargo Flight

The U.S. air cargo transportation market is a $142.4B industry. Playing a role in international and domestic movements of products for business and consumers. With the consumer focused economy of the United States the need for efficient transportation and logistics systems is vital towards the overall success and growth of the industry.

Air cargo has served a vital role in the movement of goods and the need for qualified individuals is factor that cannot go left unattended to. Hiring qualified and skilled pilots do not come at a discount. The requirements for safety and security of the pilots and the crew members operating the aircraft are essential.

Minimum rest periods, duty day restrictions, fatigue are just a few of the elements that can affect operations for aircraft operators.

Xwing is looking to not only solve the logistical and operational limitations of air cargo operations but also provide operators a solution that could maximize revenue substantially in the future.

If there is a cargo flight that needs to depart as soon as possible and you do not have a crew waiting on stand-by then you would need to notify a crew and then begin to prepare arrangements for their per-diem, hotel, and transportation.

Implementing technology that is able to provide small air cargo operators the ability to operate autonomously creates a system that is reliable and consistent.

On August 20th, 2020, Xwing announced that it has been able to successfully operate their Cessna 208B Grand Caravan autonomously. Having completed numerous flights carrying passengers the aircraft performed in-flight maneuvers, take offs and landing all without intervention from a Pilot in Command.

“The future of air transportation is autonomous,” said Marc Piette, CEO and founder of Xwing. “We believe the path to full autonomy begins with the air cargo market, and involves remote operators supervising fleets of unmanned aircraft.”

They currently hold their own Part 135 Air Carrier Certificate and are looking to begin commercial cargo flight operations within the next few months. The vision is for Xwing to operate their own fleet of aircraft for cargo operations. A project which has been in development for over 4 years now. The technology is best used for ranges currently of 500 miles.

Moving towards the future Xwing looks forward to working with other operators and companies to create partnerships and licensing opportunities. They look forward to making the technology more widely available for other service providers as well in markets around the world.

The team at Xwing has been working closely with the FAA during the testing stages of the pilotless aircraft technology that is going to serve the short-distance regional air transportation market of the United States.

Over the last 30 years the FAA has recorded a 30% reduction in qualified pilots. Since 2020 the job market for commercial pilots has tanked. Projections from 2019 anticipated that there would be a shortage of 40,000 pilots with the growing demands. In 2020, just over 40,000 pilots, dispatchers and flight attendants have all been furloughed or let go from their jobs due to Covid-19.

Many pilot have abandoned the industry understanding that there are no open positions available for the time being. In the same time the network of airlines moving cargo around the world has become scarce and the demand has been now picked up by cargo airlines.

Same Aircraft and Cargo Capacity, Radically Improved Safety, Efficiency and Reach

They are in the process of hiring new team members at cargo airlines at the time of writing although companies are being more selective as they have the benefit of being able to choose for various candidates.

Xwing can resolve many of these issues and conflicts that cargo airlines face by utilizing the systems that allow for operators to continue to use their same aircraft, have the same loading capabilities, while improving overall operations efficiency and production levels.

Part of the benefits of the system is its ability to communicate with Air Traffic Controllers and the remote operators to improve safety. The technology has the ability for operators to maximize their utilization of the aircraft with a standard crew by 3x its standard output. This is equivalent to a 20-30% cost saving.

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Xwing’s Autoflight System features: 

  • Sensing: Detect-and-avoid sensors reliably analyze airborne and ground-based hazards, providing the Autoflight System with increased situational awareness to precisely determine the aircraft’s position and hazard’s positions.
  • Navigation + Control: Using increased situational awareness, the software generates optimal flight paths, interfaces with air traffic control, monitors system health, and addresses contingencies. The remote operators have full control over the aircraft systems to manage the aircraft and maintain flight safety.

Watch Xwing in action:

With over 40 hours of automated Flight time and 70 hours of engine time for ground and flight test combined, the Xwing has shown that is able to provide successful flights. Xwing has tested the aircraft ability to perform low and high-speed ground taxing, Take-offs, navigating airspace, detect-and-avoid tests and as well landing.

With putting great focus on the detect-and-avoid systems that are in place the goal is for the aircraft to be able to respond to situations in a corrective manner. Xwing has been working closely with NASA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems in the National Airspace System program. The objective is to obtain a certication for the unmanned 9,000lb Cessna 208B Grand Caravan to operate with a cargo capacity of over 4,000lbs.

The goal for the aircraft is to be used for regional cargo operations, as well as humanitarian relieft missions around the world.

Background of Xwing

About Xwing:

Xwing is the first company to introduce autonomous technology for regional air transportation. With the goal of meeting unmet logistics demand, Xwing’s human-operated software stack seamlessly integrates with existing aircraft to enable regional pilotless flight. The company is headquartered in San Francisco, CA.

The founder of the company is Marc Piette, a pilot, entrepreneur and engineer. Before Xwing Marc was the previous owner of GoDaddy (NYSE: GDDY). Maxime Gariel is Xwing’s CTO bringing experience from Rockwell Collins Control Group, and decades of aviation experience focusing in autonomy. The company is a team of just under 20 which bring experience from Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, Aurora Flight Sciences (now part of Boeing), Facebook, Uber, Microsoft, Apple and others.

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