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Korean Air to develop cargo UAVs by 2026

Korean Air plans to develop a multi-purpose hybrid-powered cargo unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for both civilian and military logistics requirements by 2026.

Korean Air told Janes on 7 March that the new vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) cargo UAV, which is at its concept stage, is expected to carry a payload of 250 kg, fly at a maximum speed of 150 km/h, and be suitable for operations in urban areas.

The hybrid cargo UAV will be offered to military end-users for a variety of missions, including surveillance and tactical air strikes, and to civilian users to carry supplies, and assist in medical evacuation and disaster relief operations from remote and urban regions, the company added.

Korean Air first released a teaser video of the new hybrid-powered cargo UAV during the Drone Show Korea 2022, which was held between 24 and 26 February in Busan, South Korea.

The development of ‘heavy-lift' cargo UAVs is part of the company's product road map, as Janes learnt in October 2021 during an interview with Korean Air executive vice-president Lee Soo Keun, who said that the company is evaluating the possible application of hydrogen fuel cells, in addition to a hybrid propulsion system, to power long-range operations. Moreover, the combination of a battery and combustion propulsion system provides better system performance, as it increases overall endurance of the UAV to more than two hours with a maximum speed of about 70 km/h and wind resistance of up to 16 m/s.

The new heavy-lift UAV will likely leverage the experience the company acquired in the development of the KUS-HD, a multi-purpose hybrid UAV geared towards both civil and military end-users.

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