German drone delivery giant Wingcopter is coming to the U.S. in a big way — and it’s bringing the ability to conduct medical deliveries via drone with it. The company has signed a $16 million agreement with Spright, which is a subsidiary of U.S.-based medical service provider Air Methods.
Spright, which launched in July 2020, is the drone division of Air Methods, created to build a network of drones designed for delivering healthcare-related products around the U.S. By leveraging an existing infrastructure of more than 300 bases, Spright is set to be able to transport medical supplies via drone to hundreds of hospitals across the U.S., which are predominantly in rural, hard-to-reach areas.
With this latest deal, Spright has laid out the drones it’ll fly: Spright has acquired a large fleet of Wingcopter 198 drones. In fact, the terms stipulate that Wingcopter will be the exclusive provider of Spright’s fixed wing, eVTOL drones. And that gives Wingcopter a big leg up against any potential competition.
Unlike many other drone delivery partnerships where the drone company supplies and operates the drones while the other country purely provides the space and items being delivered, this one is a bit of a hybrid. Spright already has drone expertise, so — while they’ll be using Wingcopter drones — the Spright partnership means Spright itself will do much of the drone-related work itself. The contract also states that Spright is now the exclusive provider of services like maintenance, repair and overhaul when it comes to other third-parties using the Wingcopter 198 drone in the U.S.
Initial tests include flights throughout the Hutchinson Regional Health System, in Hutchinson, Kansas. If the Spright partnership is successful, Spright said it plans to expand beyond Kansas later this year. Items including medications, vaccines, blood and lab samples will be flown via drone across medical facilities, primarily in rural and underserved areas.
What is the Wingcopter 198 drone?
Wingcopter 198 is the latest flagship delivery drone created by Wingcopter. Among its most unique features is an electric-powered, vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) design, which gives it the benefits of a helicopter design (taking off and landing in tight spaces), while also providing the ability to fly more efficiently and over longer distances that come from an airplane-type design. In fact, the Wingcopter 198 drone has a range of up to 68 miles (110 kilometers), a maximum speed of 90 mph (145 kilometers per hour) and can carry a payload of up to 13 lbs (6 kg).
Another outstanding feature is what’s called a “tilt-rotor” which theoretically makes long-range flight even more efficient. And unlike some other drone delivery companies that literally land — requiring a human to remove the parcel — Wingcopter lowers items through a winch mechanism.
A history of the Wingcopter and Spright partnership
This is not the first time that Wingcopter and Spright have worked together. A strategic partnership between the two was first announced back in August 2021. In that deal, Air Methods simply announced that it would deploy a fleet of Wingcopter drones. That came after Wincopter’s Series A ending round announced in early 2021.
Air Methods has a relatively long history of aviation (it’s been around for 40 years), though it’s relatively new to drones. It currently holds the title of America’s largest and most experienced FAA Part 135 Operator and has more than 450 helicopters and fixed wing aircraft in its fleet. Right now, Air Methods’ manned aircraft serve more than 100,000 people annually, conducting flights for hospitals nationwide.
And with Wingcopter being a German-based company comes another reason to call the deal a symbiotic relationship. Given that high level of aviation experience, Spright says it is closely supporting Wingcopter in its FAA UAS type-certification process.
Wingcopter is also working in Japan. Just a couple months ago, Wingcopter announced a 7-figure investment from Japanese venture capital company Drone Fund.