NATILUS delivers 20 autonomous cargo airplanes to AmeriFlight

NATILUS delivers 20 autonomous cargo airplanes to AmeriFlight
Courtesy of AviationSource News

Ameriflight announced on Thursday that it will purchase 20 autonomous freighters from Natilus. It plans to support its expedited supply-chain services with the unpiloted Natilus Kona, an unmanned short-haul feeder aircraft.

After just over one year of revealing its plans to use Merlin Labs' autonomous flight systems on its existing aircraft, Ameriflight has completed its conversion. As the main reason for automating its fleet, the company cited an ongoing shortage of commercial pilots. 

Additionally, the company said it would begin operating semi-autonomous flights before moving to fully autonomous flights once the FAA allows it. As a result, the new autonomous cargo planes will complement the airline's existing operations, not replace them.

In addition to its 1,500 weekly flights, Ameriflight employs more than 100 aircraft and 150 pilots. 200 destinations across the United States. Its primary business is the transportation of high-priority air freight to and from remote areas for overnight express carriers such as UPS.

Natilus, a California-based start-up, has been developing unpiloted cargo freighters since 2016. The company says its aircraft with autonomy will transform the business of air freight by lowering the cost of cargo transport and helping to address the pilot shortage. 

Ameriflight is the nation's largest Part 135 cargo carrier, operating about 1,500 flights a week. “Innovation in design allows the Natilus fleet to carry more volume at lower costs, and the exploration of new sustainable fuels will lower carbon emissions,” said Aleksey Matyushev, co-founder and CEO of Natilus. “The Ameriflight agreement is a major move forward for the air cargo industry to strengthen the regional supply chain.

In addition to its four blended-wing-body aircraft, the N3.8T is expected to be able to carry 4.3 tons of cargo and have a 900-kilometer range. 

There will be two intermediate-size designs: the N100T (110 metric tons/5,400 nm) and the N60T (66 metric tons/4,142 nm). The N130T will be the carrier's flagship and has a payload of 143 tons and a range of 5,112 kilometers. 

There will be two or three ducted fans mounted on the upper wings of the larger models or two pusher turboprop engines (the N3.8T). Their engines will run on jet-A or sustainable aviation fuel. In addition to reducing operations costs by 60 percent, Natilus says its designs reduce carbon emissions by half.

The company has already begun building a prototype of the N3.8T, and it aims to begin flying it in August. First deliveries are expected in 2025, but the basis for type certification has not yet been announced.

A total of 460 aircraft have been ordered by Natilus, with an order backlog worth $6.8 billion. Ameriflight's 20 Kona aircraft are valued at $134 million.

Welcome to the New Rich. Rich Report is a Global Media Company, Focusing on Business, Investing, Technology, Entrepreneurship, Luxury Lifestyle, and Education.