World's largest autonomous electric cargo plane unveiled

Pelican Cargo offers a range of up to 200 miles and a payload capacity of 400 pounds.
Jijo Malayil
Pelican Cargo
Pelican Cargo


Fully autonomous vehicle technology is conquering the skies, with UAVs being used for various purposes. Now, a purpose-built independent cargo electric plane was unveiled by Pyka. Christened Pelican Cargo is said to be the "largest zero-emission cargo airplane and the first autonomous vehicle of its class," noted a media release

Pyka, a California-based aviation startup focusing on autonomous vehicle technology, brought out an autonomous electric crop duster called the Pelican Sprayer in 2020. 

"We designed this plane to eliminate C02 emissions from the logistics chain while offering a significant speed advantage over ground transportation and operating costs at a fraction of conventional air transportation," said Michael Norcia, Pyka's Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder. 

Specifications to suit last-mile connectivity

Pelican Cargo offers a range of up to 200 miles (321 kilometers) and can carry a payload of 400 pounds in 66 cubic feet of cargo volume. These figures are achieved by utilizing a 50-kWh lithium-ion battery pack and four 25-kW (33.5-hp) electric motors to power the vehicle. The aircraft also uses triple redundant batteries to provide a high level of safety by eliminating chances of single points of failure. 

The aircraft is compact in dimensions, with a length of 24 ft (7.3 m) and a height of 7 ft (2.1 m). The total wingspan stands 38 ft (11.5 m) and only requires a 600 x 50 ft (183 x 15-m) paved/gravel/dirt/grass runway for operations. The aircraft can attain a cruising speed of 92-103 mph (148-167 km/h). The ability of the system to operate from a 450 ft runway enables it to be used in places with less infrastructural support. 

An array of sensors guiding the vehicle

Pelican Cargo is equipped with a flight engine with six processors on two separate computers, capable of processing millions of inputs gathered from the "aircraft's forward-facing LIDAR, downward facing lasers, redundant IMUs, and redundant air data booms."

According to the firm, the vehicle's flight engine can be programmed by a single on-ground pilot and offer the ability for dynamic rerouting via satellite link. The flight also features a backup parachute system. "The Pelican uses state-of-the-art 3D aerial mapping and dynamic path planning to know where obstacles are and how to fly around them."

The firm raised $37 million in a Series A funding round in 2022 and has bagged pre-orders for over 80 for its Pelican Sprayer and "options for its Pelican Cargo from three launch customers across North America and Europe." The firm is currently testing its new model at its flight test facility in Northern California. The first commercial operation of Pelican Cargo is expected to commence by the second half of 2023.

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