The German start-up Wingcopter has secured one of the largest commercial orders for delivery drones in the world to date.

The company from Weiterstadt near Darmstadt supplies drones for more than 16 million dollars to a subsidiary of the medical flight service Air Methods from the USA, as the FAZ announced in advance.

The unmanned aerial vehicles are to transport medicines, vaccines, blood and laboratory samples between medical facilities in rural America.

Bastian Benrath

Editor in Business.

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Wingcopter 198 delivery drones are used, which can transport up to three packages weighing a total of 6 kilograms over a distance of 75 kilometers.

Wingcopter's drones fly using patented tilt rotor technology that allows them to take off vertically and then fly like an airplane when in the air.

They can reach speeds of up to 240 kilometers per hour, which is the world record for drones, according to the company.

In operation, speeds of up to 150 kilometers per hour are common.

First use in Kansas

The drones fly autonomously along predetermined routes. Using a camera and sensors on board, they can automatically avoid unforeseen events such as parachutists or flocks of birds. A pilot continues to monitor them remotely. With the appropriate legal approval, however, it should be possible in the future for a pilot to control up to ten drones at the same time. Parcels are dropped off using a cable winch so that the drone does not have to land. Also, the three packages can be roped down separately, allowing for three deliveries on one flight.

Spright, Air Methods' drone subsidiary, is working with the Hutchinson Regional Health System in Kansas for initial testing.

In the long term, the company wants to use the Wingcopter drones to set up a nationwide medical delivery network in the USA.

The parent company Air Methods flies to 300 locations in 48 states with helicopters.

"The rural regions of the United States are those with the greatest potential for drone flights," says 31-year-old Tom Plümmer, co-founder and CEO of Wingcopter.

Instead of using drones to fly out packages in cities, as Amazon has tried to do, it makes more sense at the moment to fly to places where a car is not worthwhile due to the long distances.

Analysis firm Magna Intelligence estimates that the transport drone market could grow to $53 billion by the end of the decade. California-based Wingcopter competitor Zipline is now valued at $2.7 billion by its investors. Wingcopter, founded in 2017 by Plümmer and his college friend Jonathan Hesselbart at the TU Darmstadt, has already flown its drones for projects with the delivery companies DHL and UPS as well as with the pharmaceutical company Merck from Darmstadt.

Humanitarian applications of their technology are more important to the people of Weiterstadt - it takes less than five minutes before Plummer starts talking about it.

"I worked as a volunteer in Ghana for two years," says the founder.

"I saw what it means when there are no supply chains because the roads are broken or flooded." That's why the Wingcopter drones also fly for Unicef.

In Malawi, they supplied medicines, blood supplies and other life-saving equipment to 15 remote medical centers from a district hospital.

In the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, corona vaccines were delivered by drone to a health center that can normally only be reached by a six-hour walk.

On the other hand, Plümmer excludes another application: "We do not supply the military."

The commercial order from Spright should now pave the way for series production for Wingcopter. The company does not reveal how many drones the Americans will receive for the $16 million order volume. All that is known is that the drones from Weiterstadt cost a mid-five-digit amount each, depending on the configuration and order quantity. In any case, it should be big: while Plümmer guides you through his production hall and proudly shows the assembly using robots, he says that everything is ready to produce “several thousand drones a year” here. In addition, Spright secured the option of doubling the contract volume again.

In addition, the order is based on a partnership: With the concluded contract, Wingcopter becomes the exclusive provider of delivery drones for Spright, while the American company in turn becomes the exclusive provider of maintenance, repair and servicing of the Wingcopter 198 for other American companies.

"We can grow together," says Plummer.

But it also seems clear that more orders from America are expected in Weiterstadt.