ZeroAvia’s ZA600 hydrogen-electric propulsion system will power Natilus’s Kona autonomous cargo aircraft. The two California-based companies announced the partnership on May 25.
The twin turboprop Kona is a blended-wing-body (BWB) design that will be the first member of a family of aircraft. According to ZeroAvia, the airframe architecture offers plenty of space for storing hydrogen fuel, allowing for a payload of 3.8 tons (8,360 pounds) and a range of 900 nm.
ZeroAvia is already advancing plans to use the 600-kilowatt powertrain to convert existing 19-seat twin turboprop regional aircraft such as the Dornier 228, with the aim of having it approved to start commercial flights in 2025. The company’s more powerful ZA2000 propulsion system will later be used to convert larger airliners. It has already conducted eight flights in a testbed aircraft.
In April, California-based Natilus flew a subscale technology demonstrator aircraft for the first time. It said that the quarter-scale version of the Kona validated earlier wind-tunnel tests of the BWB design, with speeds of 70 mph being attained.
Bigger Blended-wing-body Freighters in the Works
Natilus is now building a full-size Kona technology demonstrator that will have a wingspan of 85 feet. The company is also working on longer-term plans for larger autonomous freighters called the Alisio and Nordes with payloads of up to 100 tons and ranges in excess of 5,000 nm. These will have ducted fan engines. Natilus has not yet announced whether they will be powered by hydrogen or another fuel.
According to the company, it holds provisional sales commitments for more than 480 aircraft from operators including Ameriflight, Volatus Aerospace, Flexport, Astral, Aurora International, and Dymond. It said these preorders are potentially worth more than $6.8 billion.
“Given Natilus’s 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 cost benefits that are already interesting cargo operators,” commented ZeroAvia founder and CEO Val Miftakov. “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.”