AIRBUS DEFENCE & SPACE, KLM, Twente University in Enschede (Netherlands), and the Dutch aerospace company Fokker, are part of a group which will propose an unmanned cargo aircraft project to the European Union (EU).
The EU’s Horizon 2020 research and development programme has an environmentally efficient airliner project, for which proposals can be submitted. The Platform Unmanned Cargo Aircraft (PUCA) group is preparing a proposal that uses a Delft University of Technology postgraduate research project.
That research concluded that a small unmanned aircraft with a long range could be the most efficient approach. The concept drone would serve communities that need intercontinental freight services, but are not near an international hub. An example is the more than 70 cities of 500,000 inhabitants in China that have no international airport.
Dr. Hans Heerkens is a Twente University assistant professor specialising in decision making and the aerospace industry and he is PUCA’s chairman. He tells Air Cargo Week: “The minimum [cargo capacity] we are looking at is about three to five tonnes and the maximum is about 20 tonnes, between a Cessna Caravan and a Lockheed Hercules.”
He adds that KLM has two staff working with PUCA and they originally expected an unmanned aircraft the size of a Boeing 747. However, the postgraduate study helped convince the group that smaller was better.
The EU has already funded an unmanned cargo aircraft project. Called Air cargo technology roadmap, or Cargomap, it ended earlier this year. Cargomap found that no pilots meant the aircraft could have simpler unpressurised structures making them cheaper and that for regional and short distance transport drone cargo services can meet the higher frequency and time demands expected from customers.