It had to happen, a conventional aircraft modified to be used as a delivery drone. China Daily has reported on the modification of a utility aircraft
A PAC P-750 XSTOL turboprop aircraft, built by the New Zealand plane manufacturer Pacific Aerospace, has been modified into an unmanned aircraft and has recently begun conducting taxiing tests, said Chen Xiang, director of unmanned aircraft vehicle guidance at Aviation Industry Corp of China’s Xi’an Flight Automatic Control Research Institute.
“The plane will make its maiden flight in early October if preparation work proceeds well. Once its flight tests are finished, it will become the world’s first large transport drone that is ready for commercial operations,” he told China Daily in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of a civilian-military integration development expo, a weeklong event that concludes on Friday.
This is something the manned aviation world in the USA is itching to do. China Daily mentions why.
“Each manned cargo plane requires an average of 3 million yuan ($456,000) each year for its crew. Meanwhile, there has been a personnel gap of at least 10,000 aviators in the domestic market, which hugely contributes to the slack growth of cargo air transport,”
The article further mentions a 30% decrease in costs, something like fly four times get the fifth one free.
Earlier this month I singled out the Cessna Caravan as my aircraft of choice for African autonomous cargo deliveries.
Small drones for last mile delivery, perhaps that will become a thing. Why not just use large platforms to deliver significant weights most of the way. It fits into the existing air traffic system and might only need to fly in once a day at a peak weather time. Modified manned aircraft also come with parts approved by regulators and maintained to an agreed schedule. Upscaling model aircraft means certification to as yet unwritten standards.
China is not alone in converting civilian airframes for delivery purposes. I hear that the US Army love their Kaman Kmax delivery drones.
Once again, we see the market growing up. Exciting times.