Peruvian company Diseños Casanave has sold its CW-40D intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) unmanned aircraft system (UAS) to the armed forces of Ukraine and Peru.
The sale took place in January 2023, but the company declined to reveal the numbers sold.
According to Diseños Casanave, the CW-40D is a fixed-wing vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) drone with a hybrid (electric battery and gasoline) engine. It was designed specifically for ISR. The company is producing the CW-40D in collaboration with Chinese UAS firm Jouav.
One CW-40D costs about USD 155,000 and is equipped with an MG170E-type camera with an electro-optic sensor, dual field-of-view lenses, 1080 pixels at 50 Hz video resolution, 30x zoom, 640×512 infrared sensor resolution, 50–4,000 m distance measurement (±2 m measurement accuracy), and shock absorber and inertial stabilised turret system, the company said.
The CW-40D integrates Jouav’s EagleMap mapping software, a TC200 portable tablet, and a GCS-303-type double-screen portable ground control station.
It has a wingspan of 2.3 m length by 4.6 m width (wing surface), 45 kg maximum take-off weight, with a four-stroke engine, communication range of up to 200 km, a maximum speed of up to 150 km/h, wind resistance of 13.9–17.1 m/s, an operational ceiling of up to 21,325 ft, and flight endurance of up to 10 hours.
Diseños Casanave produces the CW-40D UAV jointly with the Chinese company Jouav (the UAV is actually a Chinese development), and therefore the sale of these UAVs to Ukraine is quite intriguing, as in theory it would require China’s permission.
DroneUp, an autonomous drone delivery provider, and Wonder Robotics, an Israeli startup for autonomous solutions for drones and eVTOLs, completed a successful initial operational evaluation on DroneUp’s drone platform to achieve a higher level of autonomy and safety.
Wonder Robotics’s autonomy technology will allow DroneUp to continue growing operations while maintaining its commitment to safety.
For the evaluation, Wonder Robotics’ proprietary“WonderLand” solution was installed on DroneUp drones, enabling smart precision autonomous landing, accurate winch delivery, and an advanced contingency plan. In addition to the improvements to precision, the WonderLand technology will allow a single flight engineer to safely and autonomously oversee multiple drone deliveries simultaneously, a crucial aspect to scaling DroneUp’s operation.
“Our technology is a BVLOS scale operation enabler for scalable drone services allowing the service provider or mission manager to safely operate multiple drones per site,” said Idan Shimon, co-founder, and CEO of Wonder Robotics. “Wonder Robotics’ goal is to provide a reliable technology that will make drone services safe and economical and to help with future regulatory rules for scalable, safe drone delivery.”
Wonder Robotics’ WonderLand technology includes vertical awareness (Vertical Detect And Avoid) and robust precision landing, allowing drones to operate in scale while beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) from an operator or visual observer. In urban environments, this includes obstacle avoidance systems so drones can navigate around common settings such as trees, buildings, cables, and more to safely deliver packages quickly.
“Commitment to safe operation is our top priority, and exploring cutting-edge technology like Wonderland is so important to stay on that course,” said John Vernon, CTO of DroneUp. “Not only does implementing this into our tech stack improve individual deliveries, but it also gives us a clearer path towards scaling our operation as drone delivery becomes more and more popular every year.”
DroneUp will be validating Wonder Robotics’ technology in several areas through more operational flight tests.
The European Investment Bank (EIB) will provide a €40 million (USD 44 M) quasi-equity investment into Wingcopter GmbH, a European pioneer in unmanned delivery drone technology and related services.
Founded in 2017 in the German state of Hesse, Wingcopter’s electrically powered unmanned aircraft are already delivering goods as part of several small-scale commercial and humanitarian projects. For example, in Malawi, a joint project with UNICEF and Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has seen Wingcopter’s drones deliver life-saving medicines and medical supplies to rural communities in hard-to- reach areas.
The EIB investment is backed by the European Commission’s InvestEU programme under its sustainable infrastructure window. Using electric cargo drones to deliver urgently needed goods can replace carbon- intensive modes of transport such as motorcycles, vans and helicopters, thereby contributing to the transition towards a green and sustainable economy.
The Wingcopter 198 is expected to be operated for the first time in Germany this summer when Wingcopter launches a pilot project in southern Hesse to test the potential of on-demand transport of groceries and other consumer goods. The project’s goal is to improve local supply in rural German communities through a sustainable delivery service and will be conducted together with the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences. It is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport.
What makes Wingcopter’s cargo drones truly unique is their ability to take off and land vertically while flying quickly and efficiently over long distances like an airplane without the need for expensive infrastructure. They can carry up to 5 kg and cover distances of up to 100 km. The core hardware and software is patented worldwide. Already running on pure battery power, the Wingcopter team, together with Hamburg-based ZAL Center of Applied Aeronautical Research GmbH, is currently developing a green hydrogen energy system to power Wingcopter’s drones for even longer flight times.
The EIB’s investment comes alongside existing funding from a strong international group of investors, including leading European retailer REWE Group, Japanese Fortune 100 conglomerate ITOCHU, Silicon Valley-based Xplorer Capital and Uber co-founder Garrett Camp’s investment arm Expa. Together, the investor commitments will enable Wingcopter to extend the capabilities of its flagship drone, obtain regulatory approval in key markets and deploy its drones at scale in sustainable last-mile delivery networks to become a global logistics services provider across multiple sectors.
EIB Vice-President Ambroise Fayolle, who is responsible for activities in Germany, said:
“Europe is currently the global leader in cleantech, and we must work hard to maintain this lead. Backing European cleantech pioneers with global reach like Wingcopter is central to our mission. Electric cargo drones are an important vertical segment for a future of sustainable transport and logistics. This investment underlines our commitment to supporting entrepreneurs growing and building advanced green technology businesses in the European Union, strengthening our technological competitiveness, creating highly skilled jobs and opening up new markets, while preserving nature. We are proud to be supporting this European success story.”
European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni said:
“This agreement is an excellent example of how InvestEU is helping businesses access the finance they need to innovate and expand. InvestEU will continue to support investment that will allow Europe to maintain its position as a world leader in the development and production of innovative products with positive real-world applications.”
Wingcopter co-founder and CEO Tom Plümmer said:
“We would like to thank the European Investment Bank for their trust in us and their support as we strive to become a global leader in the drone-based delivery of urgently needed goods, from medical supplies to groceries. Our goal is also to improve lives by creating many jobs — in R&D and manufacturing at our headquarters in Europe, as well as in the countries where we provide services, where we train and qualify local young people to operate our drone delivery networks. It requires strong partners like the EIB to build reliable, efficient and safe delivery drone technology and logistics services.”
The European Investment Bank (EIB) is the long-term lending institution of the European Union owned by its Member States. It makes long-term finance available for sound investment in order to contribute towards EU policy goals. The EIB’s activities focus on the following priority areas: climate and environment, development, innovation and skills, small and medium-sized businesses, infrastructure and cohesion. The EIB works closely with other EU institutions to foster European integration, promote the development of the European Union and support EU policies in over 140 countries around the world.
The InvestEU programme provides the European Union with long-term funding by leveraging substantial private and public funds in support of a sustainable economy. It helps generate additional investments in line with EU policy priorities, such as the European Green Deal, the digital transition and support for small and medium-sized enterprises. InvestEU brings all EU financial instruments together under one roof, making funding for investment projects in Europe simpler, more efficient and more flexible. The programme consists of three components: the InvestEU Fund, the InvestEU Advisory Hub, and the InvestEU Portal. The InvestEU Fund is implemented through financial partners who invest in projects using the EU budget guarantee of €26.2 billion. This guarantee increases their risk-bearing capacity, thus mobilising at least €372 billion in additional investment.
SAS Technology, a Greek company participating in DEFEA 2023, is showcasing armed UAVs including the new Talos II for the Greek Armed Forces.
One of their noteworthy exhibits is the Talos II unmanned system (UAS), which is currently in development. The MALE UAS can remain in flight for over 20 hours and is suitable for both offensive operations and ISR missions.
The company behind the Talos II also developed the Talos I, a relatively large drone with impressive characteristics including a length of 4.4 meters, a speed of 180 km/h, and an action radius of about 500 km.
The Talos I Unmanned Aerial System began its trial flights in December 2022 during a short test flight to study the aerodynamics of the small drone.
Spirit Aeronautical Systems Ltd. (SAS) was established in July 2020 by SPIRIT WORLD GROUP due to the increasing potential and dynamics in the global market for unmanned systems and their applications. SAS’s focus is on developing competitive and innovative unmanned systems with a primary emphasis on aeronautical applications.
Ramon Pagan is just one of hundreds of aviation entrepreneurs whose businesses have been held up on the runway by the FAA’s struggles with a rising number of applications for certification to operate.
In 2020, Pagan, an operator of aerial-mapping drones in Puerto Rico, thought he had an idea that would be good for his business, Caribe Drones, as well as for the welfare of the island, which imports over 80% of its food. He spent about $20,000 to buy two DJI agricultural drones capable of spreading herbicides, fertilizers and seeds. He needed certification from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate them, so he applied. And he waited. And waited. Every couple of months, he received a letter from the FAA telling him that there were hundreds of others ahead of him to be processed before his application would even be reviewed.
In late April, after about two-and-a-half years, he finally cleared the last major step: FAA inspectors traveled from Texas to evaluate how he operated the drones. Pagan says the FAA staffers were apologetic, but told him that some applicants seeking approval for businesses using manned aircraft have had even longer odysseys.
“They were saying, you should feel okay because the wait wasn’t four years, it was just two,” Pagan told Forbes. “I was in shock.”
An employee of Caribe Drones flies a DJI MG1P agricultural drone in Puerto Rico.COURTESY OF CARIBE DRONES
A prime contributor to the delay is the spike in the number of people, including individual farmers, applying to use agricultural drones. The FAA is also seeing more applicants looking to hire out private planes for charter service, a practice that’s surged in popularity since the pandemic raised anxieties about commercial flights.
The same workers who handle those applications at the agency’s network of over 80 local Flight Standards District Offices also oversee private flight schools, which are complaining it’s taking too long to get certification for their curricula, which allows the schools to enroll foreign students and military veterans, some of whose expenses are covered by the government. With demand booming amid a pilot shortage, flight school certification is taking two to three years, according to Bob Rockmaker, head of the Flight Schools Association of North America.
Exacerbating the pilot shortage, student pilots and pilots seeking new ratings are also facing serious delays in scheduling flight tests with FAA-approved pilot examiners, outside contractors who are also overseen by the flight standards offices. It can take eight to 12 weeks, Rockmaker says. Pilot examiners are in short supply after some retired during the pandemic; others have been lured to airlines by higher pay. Examiners have also faced delays in getting FAA staff to conduct the periodic recertification flights they themselves have to pass, Rockmaker says.
It’s the latest sign of dysfunction at the agency. Over the past four years, the FAA’s ability to assess the safety of new aircraft has been called into question following the crashes of two Boeing 737 MAX planes. More recently, the agency has gotten flak for its oversight of national airspace after several near collisions between airliners at airports, as well as for widespread flight delays during peak travel periods, which airlines have blamed on a shortage of air traffic controllers.
The mounting backlog in certification applications has been causing more frustration with the chronically short-staffed and under-funded agency. Congress is weighing reforms this spring as part of a five-year reauthorization bill.
“They’ve got all kinds of problems, the FAA, all kinds,” Rockmaker says.
As of mid-March, there were over 700 applicants for operating certificates of various types waiting for the FAA to take up their cases, executives at the National Air Transportation Association say they were told by FAA staffers in a briefing that month. “For every one certificate that comes off their list, they get two added,” Alan Stephens, NATA’s vice president for regulatory affairs, says the FAA staffers told them. “They just can’t seem to get ahead of the game.”
It’s taking the FAA from one-and-a-half to two years to clear new entrants to the air charter business, according to NATA, up from nine to ten months before the pandemic.
Mike Rioux, a consultant who helps new airlines and charter operators navigate the FAA approval process, says it shouldn’t take more than two months to process the simplest type of air charter application, for single-pilot planes. “Something is broken,” he says.
The FAA declined to answer questions from Forbes on the extent and causes of the backlog. The agency said in a statement that it is “taking concrete steps to speed up certification applications and reduce the backlog,” including establishing certification “tiger teams” to support local flight standards offices. The FAA is “reprioritizing work to address a significant portion of pending applications by the end of fiscal year 2023,” it said. The agency is also aiming to add about 100 designated pilot examiners this year. It had 935 in 2022.
The certification delays are causing financial distress for some aircraft owners who are unable to make money on expensive assets but still need to keep current on loan payments. One plane owner who asked to remain anonymous because he’s worried about retaliation from the FAA said that in the nearly two-and-a-half years it took for the agency to issue him a charter certificate for a business jet, he burned through over $1 million, exhausting his retirement savings and forcing him to mortgage his home. As a requirement to win the certificate, he had to hire and pay a chief pilot and maintenance director. His plane, which sat idle, needed insurance, a hangar and scheduled maintenance.
“It was a mounting load of stress,” he says.
One of the biggest requirements of the certification process is to produce detailed manuals covering such things as how the business will operate its aircraft and train staff. He says in his case they totaled over 1,000 pages. An inexperienced inspector and a glacially slow revisions process were the biggest holdups, he says.
“I would get an email about something needing to be changed and I would jump through hoops to get it back to them quickly,” he says. “I’d wait a month or six weeks for them to respond.”
The skies are only going to get busier — and the FAA’s workload will only get heavier. More drone package delivery startups are expected to apply for certification as air carriers, and a slew of electric air taxi makers are hoping to launch passenger service starting in 2025.
One reason for the delays is the FAA has lost many operations and safety inspectors who are experienced pilots to airlines. They process certification applications as well as oversee businesses after they’ve been approved. The agency is offering $25,000 hiring bonuses to try to fill those critical positions.
An idea Rioux has advocated: the FAA could delegate to outside contractors the simplest charter certifications the same way it designates outside engineers to carry out large parts of the aircraft safety certification process.
The FAA could also relieve pressure on itself by drafting new certification requirements for agricultural drones, according to people in the industry. Currently, the agency is applying standards designed for manned crop-spraying planes. Before drone operators’ certification applications are even considered, they have to get waivers from the agency for rules that don’t apply to drones, such as requirements to have seatbelts, fire extinguishers and flight manuals in the aircraft.
Nathan Stein, an Iowa farmer who sells agricultural drones made by China’s XAG, is pressing members of Iowa’s congressional delegation to exempt farmers from much of the regulatory process so long as they operate drones on their own land at low altitude.
“These things aren’t flying more than 15 feet off the ground,” says Stein. “My tractor’s sprayer boom is more than 15 feet off the ground and I don’t have to have air clearance for that.”
Jonathan Rupprecht, a Florida aviation attorney, says the FAA could automate parts of agricultural drone certification. He also proposes linking flight safety employees’ compensation to the number of applications processed, along with metrics that track safety outcomes.
David Thirtyacre, a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, submitted an application in June 2021 to start a course in how to use drones to precisely apply herbicides, insecticides and nutrients, which advocates say could revolutionize agriculture. Thirtyacre is worried his waivers will expire before the FAA gets to his case.
“The unintended consequence of a two-plus-year waiting period in order to get certification is that the people who fly illegally are getting paid and building their businesses,” Thirtyacre says. “Those of us trying to follow the rules end up getting penalized.”