Largest agric drone ever gets commercial licence

Looking at it with just an eye test, the drone does look like a huge bird with massive wings protecting a really long thin line of spray metal beneath them.

Its manufacturer, Oakland, California-based Pyka, claim it is the largest sprayer drone at least in the USA.

And with a payload carrying capacity of about 317litres, this will make it bigger that the now eternally imminent VoloDrone (which we were promised in November 2019, but is still to see the light of day), whose maximum capacity for spray chemical would be about 200litres.

Which means that the Pelican Spray unmanned aircraft could be the biggest sprayer drone in the world.

And it is celebrating right now, because, according to an announcement by its maker, the large-scale highly-automated electric aircraft for crop protection and cargo transport has received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for commercial crop protection operations nationwide.

With a gross weight of 599kg, the Pelican is the largest drone ever to receive FAA authorisation for commercial operation in the United States.

“We are beyond thrilled to celebrate this commercial approval and regulatory milestone,” said Michael Norcia, Chief Executive Officer of Pyka.

The Pelican also does cargo delivery

“Pyka’s aircraft provide an essential tool for protecting crops, unlocking cost savings for growers, and reducing our impact on the environment. This commercial approval is the first step in enabling us to generate massive value for growers in the U.S., Latin America, and other markets we operate in, while also laying the operational and regulatory groundwork for eventual scaling into uncrewed cargo operations worldwide.”

First launched in January this year, the Pelican drone’s total power capacity is a combined ‍100 kW, running on an 18kWh lithium-ion battery which can keep it in the air for up to 40 minutes; four electric motors and a composite and fixed pitch propellor. It is six metres long with a total wingspan of 11.5metres.

Although it can fly autonomously and at night, the drone is not a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) machine though; it requires a runway at least 200metres long; and once in the air, it can reach speeds of about 130km/hour.

Said Pyka in a statement; “In conjunction with an agricultural aircraft operator certificate, this highly-anticipated FAA approval will enable Pyka to commence commercial operations in the United States, bringing unparalleled safety, environmental, and economic benefits to American farmers and the greater public.

“In 2020 alone, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reported 54 aircraft accidents involving agricultural operations, including 12 fatal accidents resulting in 13 deaths. 

“The FAA’s action to authorize Pyka’s operations signifies the agency’s commitment to enabling larger and more advanced agricultural UA operations that will save lives and advance American leadership in the $60 billion global drone market.”

We have to say though, that there is little information on how the drone performs when it comes to the actual precision business of its crop spraying operation. Video evidence on the company’s YouTube channel has shown spray being swept back – instead of directly on crops – probably because of the speed at which the drone would be travelling.

The question of how the drone does in reaching sharp bends on fields crops near the end also needs clarity, as to gain altitude before turning for another round of spray.


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