European Medical Drone is to start using early examples of Dufour Aerospace’s Aero2 uncrewed VTOL utility aircraft under experimental rules approved by EASA. Under the terms of an agreement signed on October 25, the Sweden-based group will receive an X2.3 prototype of the Aero2 in 2024 to prepare for operations with 10 series production examples of the hybrid-electric tiltwing aircraft it has agreed to buy, with deliveries to start in 2026.
This is the second prospective Aero2 customer to start trial operations, with U.S. drone operator Spright having received an earlier X2.2 version of the vehicle a few weeks ago. The company has ordered an initial 40 examples of the Aero2, with options for another 100.
The sales and partnership agreement with European Medical Drone was arranged with support from Dufour’s Scandinavian distributor, Savback. The three companies will collaborate to operate trial flights between hospitals in Sweden.
Both European Medical Drone and Spright are attracted to the Aero2’s 40-kilogram (88-pound) payload, plus the anticipated range of 400 kilometers (250 miles) and a 92-knot cruise speed. Spright’s operations team spent two months with Dufour at its Dubendorf base in Switzerland being trained to operate the aircraft, and European Medical Drone will receive the same support.
EASA Eases Drone Operations Rules
The trial operations have been made possible by new design verification guidance issued by EASA in September. This revised Specific Operation Risk Assessment (SORA) cleared the way for experimental beyond-visual-line-of-sight operations under its SAIL III (Specific Assurance and Integrity Level) standard, rather than the more restrictive SAIL IV level covering operations over populated areas. According to Dufour’s head of design, Simon Bendrey, the change means that the production version of the Aero2 will be able to enter service under these rules, which will also avoid the need for a complete type certification process and for the company to secure production organization approval.
Dufour is now assembling the first X2.3 version of the Aero2 and expects to have this completed by February 2024, after which flight and iron bird tests will get underway. This prototype features the hybrid-electric propulsion system that will support the aircraft’s standard three-hour mission, and the company already has a ground test stand in operation.
“It will also recharge [the batteries] during flight so [it will give] operators maximum power during landings, which is safer,” Bendrey told AIN. “Having the 30-minute electric power reserves will allow for an aborted landing and the ability to divert. It also gives the advantage of being able to do touch-and-go operations because you don’t need to land to recharge.”
The new version of the Aero2 also features variable pitch propellers that will support higher-speed and long-range operations that Dufour intends to test. It was unable to source suitable propellers for a tiltwing VTOL aircraft so it worked with suppliers to design new blades.
Suppliers Back Production Ramp-up
Dufour is working toward commercial market entry for the Aero2 in the second half of 2025. Recent demand to produce experimental aircraft for early customers like European Medical Drone has led the start-up to accelerate production plans and this has prompted it to expand its supply chain to include multiple partners, among them Suter Industries (engines), Ruag (aerostructures), Air Energy (batteries), Plettenberg (tail propulsion units), and Volz Servos. “This gives us the chance to trial who will be series production suppliers [for the Aero2] as we move from aircraft manufacturing to aircraft assembly,” Bendrey explained.
Spright is also set to receive an example of the X2.3 aircraft and is pressing ahead with plans to expand its drone services portfolio. The company is not part of the Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection process that its parent group Air Methods initiated this week.
According to Dufour, the uptick in demand for its tiltwing VTOL is partly associated with the logistics market for quickly transporting critical payloads, such as spare parts to oil rigs. It is also seeing interest from the medical sector, for which the aircraft can be used to carry tissue samples, some organs for transplant procedures, and substances needed for scans.
In the longer term, Dufour views the Aero2 as a stepping stone to its ambitions to produce a larger tiltwing model called the Aero3. This would be able to carry up to eight passengers or cargo up to around 1,000 kilometers (625 miles). Further progress with this program hinges on raising further capital for Dufour, which in January completed a Series B funding round led by private aviation group Vista Global.