Boeing’s beast of a drone can carry up to 500 pounds of cargo

Perhaps the only surprising thing about Boeing’s remotely controlled octocopter is that it’s taken it this long to make one.

The aerospace company unveiled this meaty flying machine on January 10 and claims it has the potential to transform the way we carry heavy payloads over relatively short distances.

Described by Boeing as an “unmanned electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) cargo air vehicle (CAV) prototype,” the octocopter took just three months to build and measures 4.57 meters by 5.49 meters. It weighs more than 700 pounds and can carry payloads of up to 500 pounds. To give that a bit of context, the much, much smaller Phantom 4 consumer drone made by DJI can hardly manage 2 pounds. Yes, Boeing’s creation is a beast.

The company’s chief technology officer, Greg Hyslop, said the new air vehicle represents “another major step in our Boeing eVTOL strategy,” adding, “We have an opportunity to really change air travel and transport, and we’ll look back on this day as a major step in that journey.”

A short video (above) posted by Boeing this week shows the hefty machine lifted into the air by its eight counter-rotating sets of blades. But the enormous scale of the design is only apparent in the few brief shots in which you can see some of the team standing right by it.

“It’s fully electric on some Boeing custom-designed batteries,” says David Neely of Boeing Research and Technology. “The goal is to extend into a large-scale cargo platform; if you extend the range and extend the payload a little bit [we can] deliver 250 to 500 pounds over a 10 or 20 mile radius [and] change the way we deliver goods.”

The unveiling comes just months after Boeing acquired Aurora Flight Sciences, a world-class developer and manufacturer of advanced automated drones and aerospace platforms. Hyslop said at the time that the two companies would work together to “advance the development of autonomy for our commercial and military systems [and] open new markets with transformational technologies.”

One thing springs to mind with Boeing’s beast. If Amazon gets wind of the technology, it may be keen to incorporate it into its own Prime Air drone, paving the way for flying televisions and other heavy goods for delivery to customers.

But of course, for drone delivery platforms of all shapes and sizes, strict regulatory hurdles still need to be overcome before they can go into operation.