‘Largest’ Commercial Electric Drone Approved


The FAA has approved commercial use of the biggest electric drone it’s ever certified and it may be coming to a farm near you. The Pelican Spray, developed by Oakland-based startup Pyka, is a Cub-sized cropdusting drone that’s already in operation in Costa Rica, Honduras and Brazil to spray bananas, cotton, soy and corn. The company intends to expand its business to U.S. agriculture.

The Pelican Spray weighs 1,125 pounds and carries 540 pounds of liquid. It takes about 15 minutes to empty the tank and while it’s on the ground for a fill-up the batteries are swapped out. The aircraft has three motors, one on each wing and one on the tail. Pika is also developing a cargo drone that holds about 70 cubic feet. The FAA is currently assessing it for commercial use. Pyka officials say the ultimate goal is to build passenger-carrying drones and the cropduster and cargo aircraft are designed to “build trust in the technology,” according to Bloomberg.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Now that seems like a pretty reasonable use for an electric plane. Battery sway and payload are pretty good. Hopefully they focus on improving it for AG purposes, trying to branch out to cargo and PAX will sink them.

    • Pretty sure Honda still makes them. From memory a 250cc motor bike derived motor, and something like 50 litres to spay, with GPS plotting to hit individual plants.
      Some people started using them in France till aerial crop spraying was banned.

  2. “ultimate goal is to build passenger-carrying drones”
    They can build em. Just not so sure the self loading cargo is gonna do their part.

    • Me. Large drone flying low level around power lines, other aircraft, birds,….not going to end well.

  3. Not in the least bit viable, especially for real agriculture. Maybe a pumpkin patch or corn maze or cannabis botique grow. Many time ag needs apllication rates of 7 to 10 gallons of product per acre of liquid spraying. That takes high volume and high pump pressures with large nozzles. And current ag planes switch over to dry fertilizer application where volumes measured in tons are dispersed. The pilots have to pass tests to get applicator licenses in each state they operate in prior to working. And about half of the decision making during application is split-second experienced-based intuition.

    • Corporate America, like government, abhors things like “skill based intuition”. Ground applicators are supposedly able to now treat each individual plant using nozzles controlled by computers using cameras which analyze the plants as the tractor drives along.
      The decision makers would rather have a much less effective machine than the pilot anyways. They’ve proved this many times over.
      I think the drone is going to get plenty of consideration, and will sell even if it isn’t as good as a piloted air tractor.

  4. The market for a cheap aerial applicator is *huge*, why bother with pax? Obviously some idiot VC is behind this and wants to be the next Boeing while ignoring the massive market right in front of them. The real question is “how cheap” vs the competition.

    Having to reload the aircraft more frequently (or swap out batteries) isn’t a terrible penalty, as the ground crew is already being paid to mostly sit around at the moment anyway. Reducing the fuel costs, pilot, and other maintenance costs could make a massive difference.