4X4 Aviation’s scale-model (see picture) of its Versatile Vehicle (VV)-Plane cargo drone flew briefly on 26 September following a presentation on the project’s next steps.
The VV-Plane’s inventors expect the actual aircraft to carry a Twenty foot Equivalent Unit container travelling at 173.7 knots to cover 3,218 kilometres with multiple trips daily, with an 800 kilometre range. Its inventors claim this will make it competitive with lorries.
The full-scale aircraft will be 15 metres long with a 15 metre wingspan, be able to carry 30 tonnes and take-off and land vertically. The prototype is expected to be completed in the next few years with a budget of £3.5 milion ($5.6 million) after £2 million has already been spent on design work.
In the next decade, future versions of the VV-Plane are expected to be able to carry more than one container. Its inventor is Thorsten Reinhardt, the founder and managing director of 4X4 Aviation, which is based at London Ashford Airport. The company is in negotiations with companies in the countries of Ghana and South Africa for commercialisation.
“From Monday [29 September] we are developing the electric turbine, the patent process is still underway so I can’t say much. It is a multi-stage turbine with a very high power to weight ratio” says Reinhardt, speaking at the test flight presentation.
His claims for the turbine’s fuel efficiency include two litres per 100 kilometres for ground vehicle applications. He cited cost data for conventional turbines of up to $1,500 per kilowatt and said he expected his design to achieve as low as $20 per kilowatt.
He says his design achieves the high power to weight ratio by removing many large items. He adds that conventional engines are 25 per cent efficient, while his turbine will be 55 per cent because it reclaims heat energy from the process to reuse it.
Reinhardt adds that for additional safety, the VV-Plane and its container would be fitted with parachutes in the event of a mid-air malfunction.