Spright, the drone division of U.S. helicopter operator Air Methods, has agreed to buy up to 140 Aero2 uncrewed tiltwing aircraft being developed by Switzerland’s Dufour Aerospace. Under an agreement announced on November 4, Spright will help Dufour with flight testing, production, and maintenance for the Aero2, as well as providing training for other North American operators.
The multi-year agreement covers an initial firm order for 40 Aero2s, with options for another 100 units. Dufour is working to certify the aircraft in Europe under EASA’s rules covering light uncrewed air vehicles in the expectation that the FAA will validate this approval for the U.S. market. Type certification is anticipated by the end of 2024 with first deliveries to follow in 2025.
Describing the Aero2 as “an impressive Swiss army knife” in terms of its versatile air mobility capabilities, Spright president Joseph Resnik said that the company will mainly use the hybrid-electric aircraft for delivering medical supplies and samples over medium and long distances. It will have a payload of 40 kg (88 pounds) and a projected range of around 400 km (250 miles).
Dufour has been flight-testing two prototypes since earlier this year at Dübendorf airfield near Zurich, having already flown earlier development versions since around 2020. Having recently completed the preliminary design review for the pre-production model of the Aero2 it will use for type certification purposes, the company says it will start building these soon.
According to Dufour CEO Thomas Pfammeter, this new version of the Aero2 will be similar in architecture to the piloted eight-seat Aero3 eVTOL aircraft it is developing mainly for emergency medical flights. The company is working on the design of an initial prototype for the larger aircraft, but, for now, is keeping its 45-strong team mostly focused on the Aero2 project.
Pfammetter said that by working with Spright, the 45-strong Dufour team will get “a better understanding of the needs of operators.” He said that the contract with Spright, for which financial terms have not been disclosed, will give investors confidence to support a new funding round that the Swiss company now plans to launch. Dufour already has a partnership with Swiss aerospace manufacturing group Ruag.
Air Methods, which specializes in the medical flight services sector, established Spright in 2021 to develop the use of uncrewed air vehicles. The new business unit already has an agreement in place with German drone developer Wingcopter. Resnik said that the company is evaluating drone applications under FAA waiver agreements to operate in designated areas. He predicted that by 2025, it is likely that some operational restrictions will still be in place as regulators gradually widen permitted uses for the new aircraft. Pfammeter added that higher levels of safety redundancy will be needed to clear the way to flying drones in more populous areas.
Spright will provide product support for the Aero2 from its 15,000-sq-ft facility in Gilbert, Arizona. “This is a multi-year and multi-million-dollar commitment that will enable us to serve the critical good distribution markets efficiently,” Resnik commented.