Pyka and SNC are marketing as “Rumrunner” a modified version of Pyka’s cargo UAS for DoD missions. Courtesy of Pyka and SNC

Expanding into defense, Pyka leverages early commercial experience

Pyka is not the only advanced air mobility startup angling for DoD work, but it has more real-world operating practice than most.

Log-in here if you’re already a subscriber

Release Date
June 2, 2024
Expanding into defense, Pyka leverages early commercial experience
When Pyka’s founders established their autonomous electric aircraft startup in 2017, the defense market was not a factor. Their focus was squarely on commercial applications, and in any case, their fully electric fixed-wing drone didn’t seem particularly relevant to a sector that favored high-performance, multi-million-dollar hardware.

“In the old days, it was sort of like, ‘Well, it can’t hover, and everyone wants hovering vehicles,’” recalled Pyka co-founder and CEO Michael Norcia in an interview with The Air Current. “And it’s kind of small, too.”

Then came the war in Ukraine, which “changed things profoundly,” he said. For Norcia and many others in Silicon Valley, the defense of Ukraine stood out as a cause worthy of their time and talents, prompting them to reevaluate their attitudes toward defense work. Meanwhile, the conduct of the war was upending some conventional military doctrines, notably through the startlingly effective use of inexpensive commercial drones.

Related: Pyka prioritizes revenue over revolution in autonomy push

“I think at this point, it’s pretty abundantly clear that our product does have a place in something like the war in Ukraine. Things don’t need to have perfect functionality and perfect features; they need to exist and be easy to modify,” Norcia said. “In the last two years, it went from wondering whether a relatively small UAS [uncrewed aerial system] for moving stuff around would be useful to like, ‘How on Earth is that not already a thing that exists?’”

This paradigm shift is a key reason why Pyka recently partnered with Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) to offer a modified version of its Pelican Cargo UAS to customers within the U.S. Department of Defense. Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force’s innovation arm, AFWERX, is already flight testing the Pelican Cargo through its Agility Prime program.

Even as it expands into the defense sector, however, Pyka remains committed to its original Pelican use case, agricultural spraying, while also pursuing commercial opportunities for the cargo variant. TAC caught up with Norcia to discuss the various strands of Pyka’s business, and the lessons learned from its last three years of revenue operations — insights that are especially pertinent to the many electric aircraft developers now preparing to enter commercial service.

Subscribe to continue reading...

Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.