In a groundbreaking move towards a greener aviation sector, Natilus and ZeroAvia have forged a strategic partnership aimed at developing hydrogen-electric engines for the Natilus Kona cargo aircraft.
The Kona, a short-haul feeder with a payload capacity of 3.8 tons, is set to transform domestic air freight transportation.
Natilus, a startup based in the United States, seeks to revolutionize the global air transport industry with its autonomous blended wing body (BWB) cargo aircraft solutions.
On the other hand, ZeroAvia specializes in the design and construction of zero-emission, hydrogen-electric aircraft propulsion systems.
This partnership will exclusively feature ZeroAvia’s ZA600 as the “hydrogen-electric propulsion source” for the innovative Kona short-haul feeder UAV.
The collaboration’s focus is on enabling zero-emission operations at a reduced cost, according to a press release.
Sustainable Aviation Industry
Aiming for a more sustainable aviation industry, the Natilus Kona boasts a modern BWB design that offers ample space for hydrogen storage.
This innovation has the potential to revolutionize air freight transport by significantly reducing costs and eliminating carbon emissions, while also expanding the aircraft’s flying range.
Moreover, the Kona is being developed as a remotely piloted uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV), allowing licensed drone operators to control up to three aircraft simultaneously.
This advancement will not only decrease operating expenses but also alleviate the burden faced by carriers struggling with pilot shortages.
Natilus claims that its vehicles can accommodate 60 percent more cargo volume than traditional aircraft of the same weight, resulting in a 60 percent reduction in total operational costs and 50 percent less CO2 emissions for each trip.
The Association with ZeroAvia
The collaboration with ZeroAvia allows Natilus to leverage the expertise in hydrogen-electric powertrain technology and combine it with their unique design.
The ultimate goal is to create a scalable, long-range, and zero-emission air cargo delivery solution for the entire industry.
ZeroAvia boasts retrofit hydrogen-powered solutions that offer up to 30 times higher specific energy and lower cycling costs compared to lithium-ion batteries.
It presents numerous advantages over alternative decarbonization solutions, providing a viable and scalable option for zero-emission aviation.
The partnership between Natilus and ZeroAvia comes at a pivotal stage for both companies.
Following three years of intensive wind-tunnel research, Natilus recently validated the performance of the BWB design through flight testing of a quarter-scale Kona prototype aircraft.
Meanwhile, ZeroAvia has successfully conducted eight test flights of its prototype ZA600, a 600kW engine installed in a 19-seat testbed aircraft.
Aleksey Matyushev, Co-founder and CEO of Natilus, expressed his enthusiasm, stating that the partnership would combine the talents and innovations of both companies.
This collaboration aims to bring much-needed advancements to the air cargo delivery industry and offer multiple solutions for customers.
ZeroAvia’s development roadmap includes two engine classes. By 2025, they target a 300-mile range in 9–19 seat aircraft with the ZA600 engine, and by 2027, they aim to achieve a 700-mile range in 40–80 seat aircraft.
The company has already secured agreements with airframe OEMs, including Textron Aviation, the manufacturer of the Cessna Caravan, and private aircraft manufacturer Otto Aviation.
Natilus has received an overwhelming response, with over 460 pre-orders for its aircraft. Major airlines and integrators like Ameriflight, Volatus Aerospace, Flexport, Astral, Aurora International, and Dymond have contributed to a total order commitment exceeding $6.8 billion.
Alongside the Kona, the Natilus family of cargo aircraft includes the Alisio, a medium/long-range UAV with a payload capacity of 60 tons, and the Nordes, a long-range UAV capable of carrying payloads of up to 100 tons.
Currently, Natilus is constructing a full-scale Kona aircraft with an impressive 85-foot (26-meter) wingspan for final testing. The partnership with ZeroAvia is expected to expedite this process and propel the project toward fruition.