World’s First Cargo Drone Airliner Could be a “Game-Changer”

U.S. retailers like Amazon and Walmart have received the lion’s share of media attention when it comes to the topic of remote aerial package delivery via drone.  Both companies have just launched new pilots of their drone delivery systems in various states and cities across the country.

Drone providers like Drone Up and Wing are partnering in these initiatives, and a third company, Zipline, is expanding its own remote medical delivery services in selected locales in Utah and North Carolina.

But across the Atlantic a far bolder drone delivery concept is about to be tested in the European Union.

First conceived by Konstantin and Svilen Rangelov, two Bulgarian brothers back in 2013, the new concept calls for the use of remotely piloted, single-wing  propeller-driven cargo airplanes to transport shipments of heavy freight across hundreds of miles without the need for refueling.

The brothers call it the “Black Swan.”  They say it’s going to be a “game-changer” in the future of drone delivery services.

The contrast between the Black Swan and the smaller package delivery services currently being piloted by major US retailers and their affiliated drone companies couldn’t be more stark.  The main Black Swan prototype currently being tested has a fuselage 8-feet long with a wingspan of 52 feet.   It looks less like a drone than a small cargo plane – except that there’s no pilot.  The craft’s storage is about half the size of a large U-Haul van, with a carrying capacity of 770 pounds, far exceeding the standard drone “payload” of 5-10 pounds.

And the plane can fly continuously for a whopping 1,550 miles.  The reason?  It relies on sustainable aviation fuel – not battery power.  That’s an impressive distance – enough to traverse the Caribbean or the South China Sea.

The company’s service has 0ther competitive advantages.  With 3,000 remote airstrips located throughout the EU, Black Swan can crisscross the entire continent to make deliveries from business storehouses to designated distribution centers, avoiding concentrated urban areas and residential neighborhoods.  The company also promises to make same-day deliveries.

The two brothers first struck upon their concept nearly a decade ago when Amazon was still developing its fledgling delivery service.  Right away, they sensed that Amazon’s concept was too narrowly focused on its own retail consumers and might face logistical and regulatory challenges, as well as pushback from local communities concerned about drone overflights.

“Most small delivery drones are attempting to solve the last-mile problem,” one of the brothers told Drone News back in 2018.  “They are the bike messengers.  We are the cross-country delivery truck.”

Thanks to its large cargo and long-distance travel capacity,  two brothers expect there to be strong business-to-business demand for the Black Swan; companies like DHL and Hellmann Logistics have already expressed interest..  They also note that its carbon fiber construction will result in reduced travel costs relative to more standard and less sustainable cargo planes.

Flights of the Black Swan in the EU are expected to get underway this spring.

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