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MightyFly Unveils Next-Gen Cargo Drone
  • 20 Feb 2024 03:47 AM
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MightyFly Unveils Next-Gen Cargo Drone

By Mike Hampson
Vertiflite, Mar/Apr 2024

On Jan. 25, in San Leandro, California, MightyFly unveiled its latest iteration of the Cento, an autonomous, heavy-lift hybrid-electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) prototype air cargo drone. The aircraft, the third generation of the company’s MF100 configuration, features a redesigned and larger cargo bay, redesigned wing configuration and VTOL propeller arrangement, and improved operational efficiency.

MightyFly was founded by CEO Manal Habib in 2019. A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Stanford, Habib previously led flight controls at Zipline and developed the first robust commercial flight controller. She launched MightyFly after recognizing the need for larger, autonomous air cargo drones. The company seeks to enable expedited point-to-point deliveries that are affordable and carbon neutral.

The larger cargo bay of the third-generation Cento has the same maximum payload weight — 100 lb (45 kg) — as the company’s previous two prototype drones (see “MightyFly Unveils Cento eVTOL Delivery Drone,” Vertiflite, March/April 2023). The 2024 Cento has an empty weight of 396 lb (180 kg) and a maximum takeoff weight of 550 lb (249 kg). The advantage of a larger cargo bay allows for larger-sized packages to be carried on the aircraft. The aircraft can haul as many as 212 small UPS packages. The cargo bay’s dimensions are 72 x 18.5 x 19.5 inches (182 x 47 x 49 cm).

The new wing configuration sports a low-mounted anhedral canard and a dihedral main wing, both with winglets. The low ends of the front canard wings double as front landing gear, simplifying the drone’s design and reducing the weight — and manufacturing cost — of the aircraft. The rear landing gear is a single taildragger strut. The tandem-wing configuration facilitates trimming the aircraft center of lift over a wide center of gravity range of the payload. The aircraft is a modular design primarily of composite materials to reduce weight.

The Cento has eight fixed vertically thrusting propellers located on booms parallel to the fuselage, as well as a single pusher propeller for forward flight; thus, the aircraft has nine electric motors, powered by a hybrid-electric system, comprised of an unnamed engine plus batteries. With a cruise speed of 150 mph (240 km/h), Cento has a range of 600 miles (966 km) and flight time of four hours. Should one or more of the eight VTOL propellers stop working, the remaining lifting propellers can land the drone safely.

The range of the aircraft would allow cargo to be delivered from San Francisco to San Diego, for example, as well as having the capability of long-range deliveries from urban to rural areas. The aircraft requires the equivalent area of three car parking spaces to land, making it easy to land in unprepared parking lots, loading dock areas, grassy areas, vertiports or airports.

The company has also developed a proprietary Autonomous Load Mastering System (ALMS) that autonomously opens and closes the cargo bay door, receives and ejects packages, and moves and secures packages inside the cargo bay. The autonomous loading system can also sense and compute the weight and balance of the aircraft before takeoff, as well as minimize ground operations.

In 2021, MightyFly closed a $5.1M seed funding round, making Habib the first woman CEO of a hybrid-electric VTOL company to do so. In 2021, the company was awarded a $150,000 grant from the Michigan Mobility Funding Platform. Venture capital firm Draper Associates invested in MightyFly in 2023, the same year that the Air Force’s AFWERX selected the company for a small business innovation research (SBIR) Phase II contract in the amount of $1.25M.

The company has made successful test flights with their prototype drone aircraft. Flight testing of the first generation began in April 2021, while that of the second generation started in December 2022; tests of the third-generation prototype are expected to begin in February.

MightyFly received a special airworthiness certificate for long- range flight from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2023. The company aims to achieve FAA Part 135 Air Carrier and Operator Certification, as well as airworthiness certifications in other markets, such as Australia and Asia. The company foresees proof-of-concept delivery services starting in 2024, followed by serial production of its aircraft.

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