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Xwing completes landmark unmanned flight with Cessna aircraft

Technology aims to address potential pilot shortage for regional cargo carriers

Xwing is working to develop pilotless aircraft. (Photo: Xwing)

Xwing, a startup company developing technologies for self-flying aircraft, announced Thursday it has completed what it called the world’s first fully autonomous demonstration flight of a commercial cargo aircraft from gate to gate. The Cessna Grand Caravan 208 pulled away from Xwing’s hangar in Concord, California, taxied, took off, landed and returned to the gate entirely on its own.

The flight, which took place in February, was remotely monitored from the hangar’s mission control center.

Xwing has developed a unique software stack that integrates with onboard flight control systems to allow regional aircraft to navigate, take off and land without human involvement. 

The company, which plans to market the system to logistics companies with air cargo requirements, is going through a lengthy process to get its retrofit approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. 

“Over the past year, our team has made significant advancements in extending and refining our AutoFlight system to seamlessly integrate ground taxiing, take-offs, landings and flight operations, all supervised from our mission control center via redundant data links,” Xwing CEO and founder Marc Piette said in a statement.

Xwing also announced the hiring of former Airbus executive Jesse Kallman as vice president of commercialization and strategy. Kallman has extensive experience in unmanned aerial systems, mostly recently as head of Airbus North America’s satellite and geospatial technology business. He has also worked at Airware, a startup building aerial information platforms for drones, and helped the FAA and Defense Department develop unmanned systems policy as a member of management consulting firm Booz Allen.

Xwing also added Keith Allen, a former chief engineer for flight controls at Aurora Flight Sciences, which is developing unmanned helicopter systems, to its technical team.

In December, a piloted Xwing plane delivered a load of Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) vaccines to a Navajo Indian reservation in Arizona.

Xwing officials say autonomous aircraft will help the cargo industry cope with a potential shortage of pilots in the coming years as e-commerce demand increases. They anticipate fully autonomous cargo planes will be completing deliveries within the next couple of years.

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.


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Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government coverage and news analysis, and was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]