Air White Whale (白鲸航线), a producer of autonomous freighters, today announced the completion of an angel round worth tens of millions of yuan, led by Zhencheng Capital, with participation from Changzhou Financial Holdings.
The proceeds will go into the design of unmanned jumbo freighter, construction of a test platform and efforts to test the strength of the airplane’s hull.
The Beijing-headquartered startup, founded in 2021, claims that its W5000 model is the largest and most efficient autonomous freighter the world has ever seen.
With a maximum take-off mass (MTOM) of 10.8 tons, a capacity of 5 tons and a range of 2,600 km, W5000 is a fixed-wing aircraft catering to the aerial cargo logistics market.
As consumers increasingly demand more cost-efficient services from logistics operators in the era of e-commerce, unmanned aerial delivery is likely to emerge as a key driver of modern commerce and logistics.
Based on years of experience acquired over the course of building China’s jumbo jet, the founding members of Air White Whale resolved to build autonomous freighters that meet market needs, possess advanced technologies and feature independent designs.
By making pilot and eight auxiliary systems obsolete, Air White Whale has reduced the weight of W5000 by 34% and slashed its price by 30%.
Equipped with autonomous driving capacity, ground supervision and high levels of intelligence, a ground crew can monitor and control six to seven jets, at a labor cost that is only a tenth of that for crewed freighters of the same class.
W5000 also stands out with its operational costs and efficiency. Compared to crewed airplanes, its cost per ton-kilometer, a gauge of freight turnover in transport business, is more than 40% lower.
Another indicator of W5000’s efficiency is that civilian and general airports give it a slot time of only 15 minutes, meaning that the plane can go from landing to take-off within this short period of time.
Photo courtesy of Air White Whale
According to Air White Whale, W5000 is forecast to roll off the assembly line by the end of 2024 and set off on its maiden flight in 2025.
Globally, unmanned freighters have been a fast-expanding category, with a large number of firms carrying out pilot schemes at home and abroad.
ZTO Express (中通物流) and SF UAS (丰鸟科技), a drone affiliate of SF Express (顺丰速递), have been among the domestic logistics leaders to apply uncrewed freighters for demonstration purposes in multiple localities across the nation.
Commenting on the funding deal, Li Jianwei, managing partner of Zhencheng Capital, said large-sized unmanned freighter has the biggest potential in commercial drone application.
“The core team members of Air White Whale come from Comac (中国商飞), Airbus and GE, and have nearly 20 years of experience in the design and manufacture of jumbo jets,” said Li. “They clearly understand client needs and are superb in defining a product. And they came up with a revolutionary proposal to launch unmanned freight service.”
Feng Xiaoyu, president of Changzhou Financial Holdings, said that aerial cargo delivery is a centerpice of China’s 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025).
“Air White Whale as the nation’s first young startup to develop an autonomous jumbo freighter has rich experience whether from a R&D, technical or practical point of view,” Feng added.