Sabrewing prototype VTOL breaks a weight-lifting record
It goes without saying that the heavier a load a cargo aircraft can carry, the more useful that aircraft becomes. Well, the RG-1-A Alpha has reportedly just broken a record, by "dead-lifting" more weight than any autonomous VTOL has previously managed.
Designed by California aviation startup Sabrewing, the Alpha is a pre-production version of the company's Rhaegal uncrewed cargo VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft.
In its recent maiden hover flight, it lifted a payload of 829 lb (374 kg). According to Sabrewing, this exceeded "the previous world record for the 'dead-lift' of any commercial, vertical take-off, uncrewed air vehicle (UAV)." What's more, the Alpha is said to be capable of dead-lifting up to 3,100 lb (1,406 kg).
By way of comparison, the Skyf drone set a world record in 2018 by lifting 440 lb (220 kg) – a figure that's currently matched by the Volocopter drone. Elroy Air's Chaparral C1 VTOL hefts up to 500 lb (227kg).
And should you be wondering, dead-lifting refers to lifting a load straight up from the ground, using nothing but the thrust from the motors. All things being equal, fixed-wing aircraft are able to lift heavier loads than VTOLs, thanks to the lift provided by their wings.
With that fact in mind, it should be noted that the Alpha is also capable of traditional fixed-wing flight, as its four ducted fans can tilt from a horizontal to vertical orientation. When flying in such a manner, it's reportedly capable of lifting and transporting payloads of up to 2 US tons (4,000 lb/1,814 kg).
As far as other specs go, the Alpha itself tips the scales at 2,700 lb (1,225 kg), has a top forward speed of 230 mph (370 km/h) and can reach a maximum altitude of 22,000 ft (6,700 m).
It features a turbo-electric drivetrain, which incorporates an Ariel 2E turbine-based motor made by French aerospace firm Safran. Capable of running on 50% sustainable aviation fuel, that motor turns an electric generator which produces almost 1 megawatt of electric energy, which in turn powers the four fans' electric motors.
Plans call for the commercial version of the Rhaegal to be 47.9 ft long (14.6 m), have a wingspan of 55.8 ft (17 m), and be capable of dead-lifting up to 5,400 lb (2,454 kg) – in fixed-wing mode, it should be able to lift and carry 10,000 lb (4,545 kg).
Sabrewing reportedly already has purchase orders for 28 of the aircraft, to be used by the World Food/World Health program. Delivery of those units is scheduled to begin next December.