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Technology can truly be called a disrupting force, changing the way business as usual is conducted in the global supply chain industry. When it comes to air cargo, it has helped us create some wonderful inventions that not only improve operational efficiency but also, in the long term, reduce costs and help us prevent further environmental degradation. One is upcoming endeavour is that from autonomous freight aircraft developer Natilus, in collaboration with ZeroAvia.
ZeroAvia is a prominent zero-emission aviation developer, and Nautilus has announced that it will be using their ZA600 hydrogen-electric engine as a propulsion option on its blended wing body (BWB) cargo plane. The two aviation companies have formed a strategic partnership to jointly-develop an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flown entirely by hydrogen-electric propulsion.
Given Natilus’ impressive order book and corresponding technology development, working together on integrating the ZA600 as a line-fit engine for Kona can multiply the emissions and costs benefits that are already interesting cargo operators. We all depend on air cargo operators, and some communities depend on them absolutely, so improving the economics and environmental impacts of these operations while increasing service levels is a massive opportunity.
Val Miftakhov, Founder and CEO, ZeroAvia
Reportedly, Nautilus will add the 600 kW engine as an option to its Kona BWB aircraft, which will have a wingspan of 85 feet (26 meters), as the only propulsion tech. However, during the test runs, there was also a combustion engine present on the cargo plane, as a contingency measure.
According to a statement by Natilus, Kona’s BWB design offers increased interior volume that enables more storage space for hydrogen. While this extends the operating rate of the cargo plane, it will not lead to any emissions. It also said that Kona has been designed to haul the 3.5 tons of cargo, however, one will have to wait a bit to get their hands on. As of now, they are now constructing a full-scale demonstrator prototype that could eventually see ZeroAvia’s ZA600 engines attached.
Despite not having a full size cargo plane to fly yet, Natilus says it has over $6.8 billion in order commitments, tallying over 460 aircraft pre-orders from major airlines.
In the recent years, ZeroAvia has been able to raise huge funding rounds, has actually been able to release their aircrafts for operations, and together both the companies share a decades-long timeline of zero-emission plane development, and achieve permits to fly in the UK.