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Seaplane Cargo Drone

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Seaplane Cargo Drone

Unread postby KlausNW » Wed Dec 27, 2017 4:00 pm

Cargo Industry Tests Seaplane Drones to Deliver Freight

https://spectrum.ieee.org/aerospace/aviation/cargo-industry-tests-seaplane-drones-to-deliver-freight

Posted 27 Dec 2017 | 18:30 GMT
By JEREMY HSU
Two years after World War II, billionaire Howard Hughes personally piloted his “Spruce Goose” troop transport aircraft on the first and only flight of the largest seaplane ever built. It lasted barely a minute. Now, more than 70 years later, a U.S. startup is testing a new seaplane concept—one that could evolve into huge cargo drones that fly 109 metric tons of freight across the Pacific, touch down autonomously over water, and unload at ports around the world.

The startup Natilus was founded in 2014 with a dream of building large cargo drones to deliver international freight for about half the price of piloted aircraft, and much faster than ships. In December, Natilus planned to test the water-taxiing capabilities of a small prototype drone with a 9-meter wingspan in San Francisco Bay. Waterborne testing, done under the careful watch of the Federal Aviation Administration, sets the stage for flight tests in 2018.

“The first flight will follow the traditional general aviation flight-testing approach, which includes a water takeoff and a climb out to about 200 feet, followed by a cruise, descent, and landing,” says Aleksey Matyushev, CEO and cofounder of Natilus.

These early remote-controlled flight tests could lead to semiautonomous and then fully autonomous flights in which the drone autopilot navigates over a route of waypoints set by a human controller. By removing human pilots, Natilus wants to create a streamlined aircraft with just a single engine and more room for jet fuel or cargo. “So the drone is cheaper to buy, cheaper to operate because you burn less fuel, and cheaper to maintain,” says Francois Chopard, CEO and founder of Starburst Ventures, a company that helps aerospace startups raise seed funding.

Natilus hopes to sell its drones to delivery and logistics companies such as Atlas Air (an Amazon partner), UPS, and DHL in a bid to disrupt the US $15.5 trillion global freight market. The sweet spot in terms of freight could include pricey goods that consumers want quickly, Chopard explains.

Seaplane drones could avoid many of the safety and air traffic control concerns of drones flying over land, says Sanjiv Singh, a robotics researcher at Carnegie Mellon University and CEO of Near Earth Autonomy, a startup focused on intelligent flight systems. “If I have to ditch my containers over the ocean, it’s not the worst thing in the world, because people don’t die and everything is insured,” Singh says.

Before tackling trans-Pacific routes, Natilus first plans to build and sell a small drone by 2020 that can carry nearly 2 metric tons of cargo and operate between regional airports. Such drones could allow companies to open new air shipping routes between cities with low volumes of freight.

Similar cargo drones the size of aircraft have yet to take off in a serious way around the world. The U.S. Marine Corps previously tested a K-Max helicopter modified to become a drone capable of delivering several tons of supplies to troops in Afghanistan. More recently, researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences transformed a light aircraft into an experimental AT200 drone that can carry more than 1.5 metric tons of cargo.

Singh and other experts are uncertain whether huge cargo drones can compete with piloted cargo aircraft on cost. “Unmanned cargo drones have an efficiency advantage when they are small,” says Hans Heerkens, chairman of the Platform for Unmanned Cargo Aircraft, an international organization investigating the technology’s possibilities. “I don’t see so much of the efficiency advantage when they are large.”

Still, Heerkens points to a potential market for cargo drones in servicing midsize cities in regions such as China and Africa that lack major airport infrastructure but want to ship goods to international markets. Whether flying over land or sea, Natilus drones could change the way goods are shipped around the world—if they can pass their flight tests.

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Re: Seaplane Cargo Drone

Unread postby RKittine » Thu Dec 28, 2017 9:21 am

It is hard to believe that the eventual size they are figuring on along with its revenue potential as well as the cost of remote pilotage and equipment represents that kind of cost savings over having two pilots, probably willing to fly for low pay, actually commanding the equipment. I would think the cost of insurance to cover a remotely controlled aircraft that far from home, would be more expensive then the pilots. Airlines will be next.

I saw a cartoon in Airline Pilot Magazine years ago. There was a 4 stripper sitting in a first class seat. There was a glass door covering the cockpit opening (pre 9/11) and you could see two empty seats and an actuator lit up that showed - Auto Pilot Engaged.

Outside the glass door there was a fire axe on the wall with signage saying "In Case Of Emergency" Break Glass. Thought my 340 has a more impressive panel than the 727s and DC9s that I flew, I think I liked it better in those days. Stewardess's, Pre-AIDs and Sport F........s etc.

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Re: Seaplane Cargo Drone

Unread postby KlausNW » Thu Dec 28, 2017 3:37 pm

I believe, the idea of these freighters is to be totally autonomous after takeoff. Once it arrives on the other end the ground operator uses the cameras on board and around the harbor to clear it's landing area. Only about two man hours of guidance. Then a tug retrieves it and ties it up for the longshoreman to unload/load.

If they asked me....I would suggest:

Base the freighter on the Rutan Voyager (large glider). Enlarge the aircraft to a 500 ft wing span and make it a Bi-Wing for strength with the lower two booms as floats. It would be so big that every corner of it would be cargo haul even the wing area between booms. If there's no people on board then time is a non-issue. Use very light weight or ground based takeoff assist system. Use satellites to route the aircraft with the favorable winds. The aircraft doesn't need to go much faster than 150 knots so it can use much smaller engines with efficient fuel burn that allows 50 hours endurance.

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Basically a modern day Wright Flyer on floats:

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Re: Seaplane Cargo Drone

Unread postby RKittine » Fri Dec 29, 2017 10:08 am

Oh well, Progress. I am glad I have been able to see, maybe not the Hay Day or Aviation, but much of the great growth.

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Re: Seaplane Cargo Drone

Unread postby jjbaker » Fri Dec 29, 2017 11:38 am

With everything secure in Chinese investor dollars, I am kind of glad that the average life expectancy of humans is well below 100 years. Wait until they make cloned humans which get controlled by virtual reality goggles from home...
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Re: Seaplane Cargo Drone

Unread postby RKittine » Fri Dec 29, 2017 1:42 pm

Yep, 100 is not in the cards for me, so I will just enjoy what I have left.

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