A new air freighter design could carry 60% more cargo. At half the cost?

Fewer CO2 emissions, more cargo space.
Chris Young
The N3.8TNatilus

California-based startup Natilus revealed a new unmanned aircraft that it believes will make air cargo more sustainable as well as cost-effective, a report from NewAtlas reveals.

The company designed a blended wing body aircraft, similar to NASA's X-48 "green airliner" concept, which it says allows it to offer "an estimated 60% more cargo volume than traditional aircraft of the same weight while reducing costs and carbon dioxide per pound by 50%."

Natilus's first model, the N3.8T, will have a maximum take-off weight of 8,618 kg (19,000 lb) and a range of 1,667 km (1,035 miles), with a capacity to carry loads of up to 3,855 kg (8,500 lb). The company recently completed a second wind tunnel test (shown in the video below) of its twin-engine turboprop design and it says it aims to make the first deliveries of the unmanned aircraft sometime around 2025.

Cutting airfreight costs in half

Much in the same fashion as NASA with its X-48 concept, Natilus utilized a blended wing airframe to offer improved fuel efficiency, reducing the environmental impact of the N3.8T. The body also allows for more cargo space, meaning reduced operations costs. "Reducing the cost of airfreight by up to 50% will bring fresher produce into our stores, enable cross-border e-commerce to flourish, and enable low infrastructure regions to develop," Aleksey Matyushev, CEO of Natilus, said in a statement.

The aim is for Natilus' freight drones to start off delivering small packages before larger models are developed with greater payload capacities and ranges as high as 8,220 km (5,112 miles). Natilus just announced an agreement with drone network operator Volatus Aerospace for it to receive the first production N3.8T.

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Several companies are aiming to improve air cargo efficiency amid supply chain struggles caused by the pandemic as well as record e-commerce demand. Boeing, for example, just announced it is developing its new 777-8 Freighter, which will have a 25 percent improvement in fuel efficiency. Another California firm called H2 Clipper is looking for funding to help it develop a zero-emissions airship concept that could operate at one-quarter the price of traditional air cargo. With the aviation industry aiming to curb its impact on the environment, air cargo could be in for a big shake-up.