The Eagle has landed
A company with close ties to Wise County in Southwest Virginia unveiled a new home-delivery drone, the Flirtey Eagle, Monday at the National Press Club.
Flirtey, a Reno, Nevada-based startup, conducted the nation’s first Federal Aviation Administration-approved drone delivery in July 2015, an event that took place at Wise’s Lonesome Pine Airport. The drone carried a payload of medications to the county fairgrounds, where the annual RAM free health clinic was being held.
Last month, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner and other Virginia officials marked that first drone delivery with a historical marker at the airport, but Flirtey CEO Matthew Sweeny may have overshadowed his company’s achievement by using the ceremony to propose to his girlfriend, Andi Kilgore, a Wise native who coordinated the 2015 delivery.
When he moved to the U.S. in 2014, Sweeny, an Australian native, set a goal of carrying out the first FAA-approved drone delivery.
“People told us at the time it was impossible,” he says, but when shopping around for locations that would embrace the idea, Wise stood out for its enthusiasm. “From that point in time, we had that ‘Kitty Hawk moment’ in Wise County,” Sweeny says, referring to the Wright brothers’ 1903 first manned powered aircraft flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
Sweeny expects the Eagle to deliver packages, including medications, within less than 10 minutes of an order being placed. Drone delivery would cost customers $5 to $10, about the same cost as the last mile of delivery by car or truck, which is the most expensive leg of a delivery, Sweeny says. However, the time between order and delivery would be much faster than it takes the pizza guy or the mail carrier.
He adds that the drone is designed to operate in 95% of wind and weather conditions, and it can carry 75% of packages now delivered on land — twice the payload capacity of other drone competitors. A remote pilot can fly up to 10 Eagles at the same time.
Sweeny says he hired scientists and engineers from NASA, Raytheon, SpaceX, Lockheed Martin and other companies to produce the new drone as well as the Flirtey Portal, a launchpad for the Eagle that fits in the space of a single parking space. The FAA, which governs airspace, has approved the technology.
“We’d like to have as many Flirtey Eagles in the air as delivery trucks on roads,” Sweeny says. He says that he’d like to partner with The Health Wagon in Wise again, perhaps delivering medicine to remote homes. The company’s next goal is to provide regular deliveries to customers’ residences later this year.