Natilus, the cargo drone startup, has completed the latest phase of taxi tests on water for a 30-foot-long prototype of its planned, large-scale unmanned cargo aircraft. Aleksey Matyushev, CEO of Natilus, told Air Cargo World the prototype has been undergoing taxi testing since February.
“The prototype has successfully completed medium-speed taxi testing in remote operation under its own power,” Matyushev said yesterday. Taxi testing is being conducted in California’s San Pablo Bay, about 15 miles northeast of downtown San Francisco.
“In the last four months the team has solidified the hydrodynamics and ground control station operations, but it’s not been without learning lessons,” Matyushev explained to Air Cargo World. “The small team has been quick and agile in responding to any vehicle modifications needed, large or small.” He added that a larger aviation company might require three to four months to build a new horizontal tail, but Natilus completed the task in just one month.
In the coming weeks, the Natilus team is preparing to move towards high-speed taxi tests, followed shortly afterwards by first flight, Matyushev added.
The current, small-scale prototype vehicle, which is “just a technology demonstrator,” will be capable of transporting 700 pounds of cargo a distance of 2,500 nautical miles, he said. A larger-scale, 2-ton freighter being planned by Natilus will feature bulk-loading operation and will compete with existing feeder aircraft that are used today with large integrators.
Matyushev also commented that Natilus has “not lost sight of the company’s goal” of creating larger 60- and 130-ton capacity freighters. “The designs for the larger freighters has been evolving steadily and we continue discussions with potential customers,” he said. “As we look towards the future, it’s been important to engage our customers early to understand their needs. We believe that the key to winning markets dominated by Boeing and Airbus aircraft is to design a vehicle meant only for air freight. That simple freighter centric approach is why our design and performance figures are so exciting to customers.”
Natilus also revealed several updated renderings of their larger 130-ton freighter showing landing gear, the use of existing infrastructure and even folding wing tips (see below).