- San Francisco-based cargo drone developer MightyFly last month unveiled its second-generation Cento express cargo drone designed to perform multiple consecutive deliveries, according to a Jan. 24 release.
- The hybrid vertical takeoff and landing aircraft is equipped with a 100-pound payload capacity, 600-mile range and a cargo bay large enough to transport 96 small USPS packages, according to the release.
- MightyFly, which secured a Special Airworthiness Certificate and Certificate of Authorization for long-range flights from the Federal Aviation Administration for the Cento in 2022, also announced plans to begin flight testing its last- and middle-mile logistics service.
MightyFly joins the list of drone companies looking to build last-mile and express logistics networks to serve the growing demand for home delivery, especially in rural areas.
"The traditional hub-and-spoke distribution model doesn't serve everyone," Manal Habib, MightyFly CEO and co-founder, said in the release. "We need to be able to adapt to various cargo volumes and expedited timing. Medical companies, just-in-time manufacturing, and retailers that now provide same-day delivery need a faster and more affordable way to get their goods and perishables to the final destination."
Cargo is loaded and unloaded inside the aircraft autonomously, instead of via a cargo box below the aircraft, while the electric batteries recharge during the flight, a MightyFly spokesperson told Supply Chain Dive in an email. This enables multiple deliveries on the same flight route, contributing to “more affordable and fast delivery services.”
“MightyFly is following a detailed 9-month flight testing for the Cento aircraft,” the spokesperson said. “We are in discussions with potential partners to start proof-of-concept programs in late 2023.”
Fellow U.S.-based drone company Elroy Air also has been growing its cargo drone operations, signing a deal in January to supply up to 40 of its Chaparral VTOL aircraft to aviation company LCI, according to a release. The Chaparral is equipped to transport up to 500 lbs of goods over a range of about 300 miles.
Meanwhile, Walmart, which has drone hubs at 36 stores across the U.S., completed more than 6,000 drone deliveries in 2022, with the goal of expanding its network to operate 1 million annual deliveries.
E-commerce giant Amazon has also been working to develop its own drone network, and in November unveiled a new MK30 drone expected to enter service in 2024.
Regulatory processes, however, have slowed down growth and expansion efforts, as approvals are required for parcel deliveries made beyond the operator’s line of sight, among other situations. FlyTrex, for instance, was eventually able to expand its drone delivery program in North Carolina, enabling deliveries up to a mile away from retailers, only after securing an FAA permit in 2021 to fly over people.