The planned unmanned aeroplanes will be able to lift much heavier goods into the air than conventional aircraft, thanks to a unique body design. Air transport is currently the fastest way to transport goods, but also the most expensive, compared to the extremely slow but cost-effective water transport. Californian start-up Natilus is trying to bridge the gap with an unmanned aircraft that, thanks to its mixed-wing body, will be able to carry 60 percent more cargo than an aircraft of the same size.
The Natilus N3.8T will be the first model to take off; with a take-off weight of 8 618 kilograms, the drone will have a range of 1 667 kilometres and carry a payload of up to 3 855 kilograms. Natilus also claims to halve the cost and carbon dioxide emissions per pound compared to conventional cargo planes.
The company attributes the increased performance to the mixed-wing body, a new type of airframe design that eliminates the distinctive line between the wings and fuselage that is unique among cargo aircraft.
“From a freight transport perspective, this makes a lot of sense. The internal volume is 50 percent higher, which doubles the revenue per flight. The design of conventional constructions means you run out of volume before the aircraft reaches its maximum take-off weight.”
– explained Aleksey Matyushev, CEO and co-founder of Natilus.
The twin-engine turboprop aircraft are designed to be remotely piloted and will initially be used to transport small packages domestically in the United States. Later, larger versions designed for intercontinental travel will come off the production line, which will have a higher payload capacity and range, such as the 130T model, which will be capable of flying 8,220 kilometres.
Natilus is using Siemens engineering software in its development and has now signed a contract with drone network operator Volatus Aerospace, which will receive the first production N3.8T. The aircraft has already passed the second round of wind tunnel testing, with the first delivery expected in 2025.