Avionics News January 2021 - 42

AUTONOMY FOR GENERAL AVIATION
Continued from page 41

lot of data to show them how well it works, " Gariel said.
" There has to be enough data to show how it works and
record the performance of the system. " Xwing hopes to
obtain FAA approval to remove the pilots from the cockpits
in two or three years.
" We will be operating this cargo service ourselves, and
the reason is to close the feedback loop much quicker, "
Gariel said. " Iterations will go faster if we do it ourselves. "
The company has to prove to top operators of cargo
services that such a system can meet their needs. FedEx,
for example, operates a fleet of about 260 Caravans. " In the
future, we are open to licensing the system for use by other
operators, " he said.
Gariel said the reason an automated Caravan makes sense
for aircraft feeding cargo from smaller airports to larger
ones is that the pilots end up cooling their heels waiting for
cargo to arrive at outlying airports. After flying cargo out in
the morning, there is a lot of time waiting for a new load of
cargo to arrive that is destined for the larger airport.
Gariel said his company plans to operate a fleet of
aircraft from a central control center eventually. Then one
remote pilot could supervise a Caravan on the East Coast
first thing in the morning and move virtually across the
country to the Midwest and the West, supervising other
aircraft as the day progresses. Using high-level keyboard
commands and a mouse, the role will soon become that of
a supervisor similar to an airline dispatcher. This would
also be a good thing because the low-paying job of a
Caravan pilot today is not usually sought after. Once a pilot
accumulates 1,500 hours, he or she quits to go to the next
rung up on the pilot hierarchy. Autonomous operations also
aim to have one person at a control center supervise more
than one flight at the same time.
While Xwing plans to operate Caravans in autonomous
operations initially, it is open to licensing third parties to
use the systems in the future.
One key the FAA would have to approve for these type
of automated Caravan flights to occur in commercial
service is a detect-and-avoid system for beyond-visualline-of-sight operation out of sight of a remote pilot.
ASTM International has just released a new version of its
detect-and-avoid standards for smaller air vehicles than the
Caravan. " It's not perfect, but there is something there to
get started with, " Gariel said.
" The future of air transportation is autonomous, " Piette
said. " We believe the path to full autonomy begins with the
air cargo market and involves remote operators supervising
fleets of unmanned aircraft. "
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2021

" These flights have to happen every single day with
100% reliability for companies like UPS, " Gariel said.
" They have to operate in rain, snow and icing. They have to
go every day. "
As of August 2020, Xwing had completed 70 hours
of engine time for ground and flight tests and more than
40 hours of automated flight time. The company has also
been working with the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration's UAS in the National Airspace System
program for more than a year.
There are other companies working on autonomous cargo
delivery air vehicles much larger than the small package
delivery drones being developed by Amazon and Wing (an
Alphabet company). If you want to deliver more than cups
of coffee or a submarine sandwich, you can look to Drone
Delivery Canada's new drone helicopter now in flight test.
This is not a production line helicopter, rather one created
with off-the-shelf components fitted with an autonomous
system. The Condor can lift payloads of about 400 pounds
and then fly the cargo at 75 miles per hour.
" We buy a shell airframe and a motor for the helicopter,
and all of the electronics and software are developed by
us, " said CEO Michael Zahra. In addition to providing
autonomous operation of the Condor helicopter, the
company's patented FLYTE system enables autonomous
flight on two eVTOL cargo drones. One is called Sparrow
that it is capable of lifting 2.2 pounds. It is already in
service. The other, still in flight test, is the Robin capable
of lifting 24 pounds.
The Sparrow eVTOL is already providing commercial
cargo delivery services in Canada flying a fixed route from
depot to depot. A depot usually consists of a warehouse
or office location where it lands in an enclosure. The
helicopter will operate in the same point-to-point scheme
as will the Robin once they are approved by Transport
Canada.
Another approach to providing autonomous air cargo
capability is to develop a new eVTOL air vehicle.
Sabrewing Aircraft Company in Silicon Valley is about
to start flight testing with its ducted-fan eVTOL cargo
drone at Edwards Air Force Base. Unlike the Caravan,
the Sabrewing Rhaegal RG-1 drone can take off and land
vertically with a 5,400 pound cargo payload and take off
in a short run of 350 feet with a payload of 10,000 pounds
(about twice the cargo a Caravan can carry).
Sabrewing has a two-part challenge to certify the
Rhaegal RG-1 since it has to gain FAA approval for a
clean sheet of paper eVTOL while also certifying its
custom-made autonomous flight and detect-and-avoid
systems. The company is in discussions with the FAA,
and the agency plans to monitor its flight test program at



Avionics News January 2021

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