International logistics company UPS will buy up to 150 piloted electric aircraft for short-range deliveries, with the first expected to fly in 2024.
UPS’s Flight Forward division this week announced it would take delivery of its first 10 eVTOL aircraft from US manufacturer Beta, with the option to purchase up to 150. The aircraft will have 4 electrically driven lift rotors, a tail-mounted propeller, cargo capacity of 635kg, range of 217 NM, cruise speed of 148 kts and zero operating emissions.
The aircraft achieves these performance figures by using 2 blade rotors only for take-off and landing; in cruise flight, the rotors are pointed front-rear for minimal drag and the wing generates lift. A prototype flew for 17 NM in March and reached 8000 ft.
UPS says the aircraft is designed to operate autonomously as technologies and regulations to enable this are developed. UPS Flight Forward already operates daily revenue-generating flights with drones carrying a 2.25kg payload. Its FAA certification allows the company to fly payloads of up to 3400 kg, either with an operator or autonomously.
The aircraft will use a charging station as a landing pad. UPS says this will recharge the aircraft in under one hour. It says the aircraft will be able to fly a series of short routes, or one long route, on a single charge.
‘By utilising vertical take-offs and landings, we can turn relatively small spaces at existing UPS facilities into a micro air feeder network, without the noise or operating emissions of traditional aircraft,’ Beta founder Kyle Clark said.
The charging station will eventually use expired Beta aircraft batteries for charging UPS’s fleet of electric ground vehicles. UPS has 12,000 alternative fuel vehicles worldwide and is committed to purchase up to 10,000 electric vans from British maker Arrival.
Rival logistics company FedEx has a longstanding order for 50 examples of Cessna’s newly developed but conventional SkyCourier turbine twin-engine aircraft. The SkyCourier prototype flew last year.