The Autoflight V400 Albatross cargo drone

By Willie Bodenstein

Autoflight was established in 2016 by Tian Yu, a pioneer in electric aviation who previously founded Yuneec, a maker of consumer drones and electric ultra-light aircraft. The company is headquartered in Shanghai, with research and development facilities in Munich, Germany and Shenzhen, China.

The company's V400 Albatross cargo drone debuted on 13 September during the World UAV Federation's 2020 Drone World Congress held in Shenzhen, China. The V400 builds on the success of Autoflight's smaller cargo drones, including the V50 "White Shark," which earlier this year set a flight duration record of over six hours. With a wingspan of nine meters (29.5 feet) and an airframe made from high-strength carbon fibre, the V400 will have a maximum take-off weight of 400 kilograms (880 pounds) and a payload of 100 kg (220 lb.).

With a designed in-house flight control system, multiple sensors and radar to assist with take-offs and landings, plus sense-and-avoid capability, the V400 will be capable of fully autonomous flight. It has integrated 4G and 5G mobile network functionality for multi-channel communication and an option for a whole airframe parachute for additional safety.

Autoflight explained that, due to the current state of regulations, UAV cargo drones are a more viable application for eVTOL technology in the near term than the urban air mobility (UAM) passenger market. The company said, its V400 UAV will meet all of the requirements of the Civil Aviation Administration of China and thus has a clear path to commercialization in that country.

The V400 uses eight lifting propellers powered by individual electric motors for vertical take-offs and landings. Autoflight plans to develop both fully electric and hybrid versions. The fully electric model will feature two cruising motors in push-pull configuration and will have a target range of 300 kilometres (186 miles) with full payload. The hybrid-electric version with a range up to 1,000 km (620 mi) will be fitted with a single combustion engine at the rear for cruising. The aircraft is designed for a maximum VTOL take-off altitude of 5,000 m (16,400 feet).

Autoflight said it has completed construction of the V400 prototype and expects to perform its maiden flight by the end of this year.

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