United Aircraft nets US$168m, to build UAVs in China’s ‘Rust Belt’

United Aircraft, however, seems poised to cast a vote of confidence in Heilongjiang and its ability to create a business environment congenial to investors and entrepreneurs.

United Aircraft (联合飞机), a major industrial UAV developer in China, has announced the completion of a Series D+ financing round valued at 1.2 billion yuan (US$168 million).

The round was led by a consortium of government-affiliated investors, roping in Longjiang Fund as a lead backer and other participants such as Harbin Keli Capital, LJ Forest Ventures, Keli Capital and Harbin Venture Capital Group.

Proceeds from this round will be used to manufacture large-sized autonomous helicopters in Harbin, the capital of China’s northernmost Heilongjiang Province.

Notably, this is one of the largest financing rounds in China’s UAV sector in years — and is of huge strategic importance for the country’s northeastern “Rust Belt.”

The region, which is a cradle of China’s industrialization, saw its glory days as an industrial powerhouse until the 1990s.

Hit by waves of factory closure and massive layoff following reform and opening-up, it has been in decline for many years.

Exacerbating the woes is an exodus of talent and a disrepute as an investment destination owing to its vast bureaucracy and red tape.

United Aircraft, however, seems poised to cast a vote of confidence in Heilongjiang and its ability to create a business environment congenial to investors and entrepreneurs.

The drone developer has been a favorite of state financiers. Just in March, the Shenzhen-headquartered startup closed a Series D round of funding worth a staggering 2 billion yuan, counting government industry funds among its backers.

Tian Gangyin, its founder, president and chairman, revealed to media then that the firm plans to go public by the end of 2026.

TD550 co-axis unmanned chopper. Photo courtesy of United Aircraft

Founded in 2014, Tian’s firm mainly supplies drones and what he calls “integrated UAV solutions” to government and corporate buyers.

It now has upwards of 20 products, spanning drone, ground autonomous vehicle, drone-mounted equipment, rotary blade and compound materials.

Its UAVs have been deployed to scenarios including logistics, public security inspection, border patrol, electricity inspection and oil and gas refining.

In June last year, United Aircraft took part in the preparatory work for the launch of the Shenzhou-14 spaceship.

Its teams arrived in northwestern China’s Jiuquan, the site of one of China’s space projects, to work with researchers in advance of the blast-off. It flew drones to survey surrounding Gobi deserts and mountains, so as to ensure safety.

Industrial drone has been growing by leaps and bounds in China. According to a white paper on general-purpose aviation, issued by Aviation Industry Corporation of China last year, the civilian UAV market worldwide was valued at 160 billion yuan in 2021, up 61.6% year on year, and is expected to reach 500 billion yuan in 2025.

A number breakdown shows that industrial drones accounted for 60% of the total market value in 2021 and the proportion is forecast to climb to 80% in 2025, the white paper reveals.

Currently, leading domestic industry drone suppliers include DJI (大疆科技), JOUAV (纵横股份) and AEE Technology (一电科技).

Of them all, DJI has 80% of the global drone market and over 70% of the domestic market, with industry-grade products like Mavic 3 and Matrice 30 series being applied in electricity inspection and geographical mapping, among other use cases.

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Ni Tao

Ni Tao is the founder and editor-in-chief of cnrobopedia. Prior to cnrobopedia, he had a full decade of experience with a major state-run English-language newspaper as a tech reporter and opinion writer. He is also a communications specialist, having provided consultancy services to established firms like Siemens, Philips, ABinBev, Diageo, Trip.com Group (Nasdaq: TCOM, HK: 9961), Jianpu Technology (NYSE: JT) and a handful of domestic startups. A graduate of Fudan University, he writes widely about China's business and tech scenes and other topics for global publications including South China Morning Post, SupChina, The Diplomat, CGTN, Banking Technology, among others, and tries to impart his experience to students at Fudan University Journalism School, where he is a part-time lecturer. When he's not writing about robotics, you can expect him to be on his beloved Yanagisawa saxophones, trying to play some jazz riffs, often in vain and occasionally against the protests of an angry neighbor. Get in touch with him by dropping a line at nitao0927@gmail.com.

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