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ZeroAvia to develop hydrogen-electric engine for unmanned cargo aircraft

Natilus, a California-based aerospace start-up developing autonomous cargo airplanes, have announced a strategic partnership with ZeroAvia, the British/American hydrogen-electric aircraft developer. 

In January ZeroAvia flew a 19-seat Dornier 228 over a field in Gloucestershire and made a bit of history. The Dornier had been retrofitted with a full-size prototype hydrogen-electric powertrain and became the largest such plane ever to take to the skies. They will now be bring their expertise to help power one of the most intriguing aircraft currently in development.

The Natilus’ Kona aircraft – a scaled down version of which made its first test flights in April – has a unique blended-wing-body (BWB) design. Whereas traditional ‘tube and wing’ aircraft are designed around passengers, the Natilus aircraft will have a patent-pending ‘Diamond’ cargo-bay that allows for 60% more volume.

Designed around cargo, the aircraft will be able to hold a large configuration of standard pallets and outsized cargo, without a contouring requirement. It is this increased capacity that makes the design also perfectly suited to carrying hydrogen.

Natilus claim that their unique aircraft can not only increase cargo volume by 60%, but also lower air cargo costs by 60%, while cutting carbon emissions in half (based on using aviation fuel).

A graphic on the company’s website illustrates  the cost and time for cross-Pacific freight transport:

Natilus: 12 hours – $130,000
Traditional aircraft: 12 hours – $216,000
Ocean Freight: 21 days – $40,000

Natilus currently has more than $6.8 billion in order commitments, and 460+ aircraft in pre-orders, from companies including major airlines and integrators. They are now working on construction of a full-scale Kona demonstrator, which will have a wingspan of 26 meters.

With a 3.8 ton payload Kona will be the smallest of Natilus’ planned fleet which will also feature the Alisio (60 ton payload) and Nordes (100 ton payload).

Aleksey Matyushev, Co-founder and CEO of Natilus, said: ‘Natilus has a long-term commitment to being a responsible steward of our environment, instituting practices that can protect the environment through continual improvements to save fuel and water, reduce waste, air emissions, noise, and material consumption. The Natilus-ZeroAvia partnership goes further, bringing the talents and innovations of the two companies together to deliver much-needed innovation in the air cargo delivery industry and multiple solutions for our customers.’

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