SF Express conducts successful large UAV trial

By Damian Brett

Express giant SF Express has completed a successful trial of a large cargo unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flight, according to the Xinhua news agency.

The bi-plane UAV took off from an airport in the northwest Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, which produces various perishable foodstuffs, on August 21 and landed at an airport in inner Mongolia after a flight of around an hour.

The Xinhua agency said the FH-98 has a maximum takeoff weight of 5.25 tonnes and has been designed to carry payloads of up to 1.5 tonnes, with a cabin space of 15 cu m.

FH-98 has been jointly developed by SF Express and China Aerospace Times Electronics, and is based on the China-developed Y-5B freighter, which itself is based on the An-2.

The report said that the model is capable of short takeoffs and landing and a cruising speed of 180 kph, meaning it is suitable to serve a regional express hub and nearby cities. It is expected to greatly enhance the efficiency of regional logistics, said SF Express.

The company said it was the first time a large UAV has been used in a logistics project in China.

SF Express said the drone would greatly reduce operating costs, to the point it could eventually compete with trucks.

In 2017, SF Express set up Fonair, a subsidiary, to handle business on the large UAV. To date, Fonair has been given permission to use nine air routes to conduct test flights.

In the future, the use of drones to carry cargo to rural communities that can be hard to reach using overland transport, or for transport to remote islands with infrequent ferry services is expected to increase.

Earlier this year, aerospace firm Thales and cargo drone company Skyports trialed a new drone delivery system for the National Health Service (NHS) in Scotland, which will speed up the delivery of supplies to islands. UPS has also conducted commercial drone flights.

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