D&S 2017: Chinese cargo UAV takes to the sky
A Chinese cargo-carrying UAV named the AT200, based on a commercially-available single-engine turboprop, performed a 26-minute maiden test flight in Weinan, Shaanxi Province on 26 October.
The conversion is based on a Pacific Aerospace P-750 XSTOL aircraft with its cockpit removed. Its Pratt & Whitney PT6A turboprop engine gives the unmanned aircraft a range of 2,000km.
Able to transport 1.5t of cargo in its 10m³ cargo compartment, the AT200 can reportedly land on a 200m-long unprepared airstrip.
The Beijing-based Institute of Engineering Thermophysics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the AVIC Xi’an Institute, are two organisations involved in the project.
With its developer now seeking an airworthiness certificate ‘as soon as possible’, the aircraft with maximum take-off weight of 3.4t is slated to eventually enter commercial service.
‘This drone has astonishing capabilities for military transport...[and it] will play an important role in securing military supplies for islands and islets in the South China Sea,' the Institute of Engineering Thermophysics said on its website.
The institute added, ‘For islands where it is impossible to land and take off, the research team will add an airdrop function for upcoming models.’
Chinese media were quick to seize upon this, promoting the AT200 as being suitable for resupply of military garrisons on remote islets in the South China Sea.
However, such notions are exaggerated as in fact the project is being conducted on behalf of SF Express, China’s second largest courier company after state-owned China Post. Its main purpose would be for short-haul time-sensitive deliveries such as fresh food and medicines around China.
SF Express already owns 40 Boeing aircraft and it plans to expand its fleet to 100 aircraft by 2021.
Chen Xiang, director of unmanned aircraft vehicle guidance at AVIC’s Xi’an Flight Automatic Control Research Institute, said the cargo UAV’s operational costs would be about 30% less than a manned transport aircraft.
Future UAVs could be based on a heavier airframe and be capable of totally automated take-offs and landings, Chen revealed.
The P-750 XSTOL is built in New Zealand. Pacific Aerospace is already in hot trouble after selling aircraft to China that were subsequently on-sold to North Korea’s air force.
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