From FAA approvals through to successful test campaigns, all the way to production partners – things are moving on the drone scene, with real-life scenarios becoming all the more likely for 2024, if not 2023, already. A quick look at what’s happening over at Matternet, Volocopter, and Natilus.
Following its Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standard Type Certification – the first of its kind for an unmanned aircraft - awarded for its M2 drone earlier this year, Matternet announced on 30NOV22, that the FAA has now also granted a Production Certificate. With these two certificates in hand, Matternet is leading the way on the U.S. unmanned delivery drone scene, since “it is the first company in the U.S. with an approved and in-production aircraft that has been deemed airworthy and eligible for commercial delivery operations,” the release underlines.
A good, healthy size
The drone in question, the M2, is a compact delivery drone designed to carry payloads of up to 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) over distances of up to 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) over urban and suburban environments. CFG spoke last year with Matternet, after the M2 was demonstrated at the ITS World Congress in Hamburg, Germany: https://www.cargoforwarder.eu/2021/10/17/drone-provider-matternet-expands-its-reach/
Matternet was the first company in the world to be authorized for commercial BVLOS operations of drone logistics networks over cities in Switzerland already in 2017. Over the past four years, it has been working under the FAA Part 135 exemption, testing the technology systems of its drones. In 2019, Matternet partnered with UPS to launch drone delivery services in the U.S., and together they started the first revenue drone delivery. Matternet’s focus is mainly on supporting health systems with its unmanned delivery operations- For example: the M2 could be used to transport lab samples to offsite testing facilities for faster results. Matternet is also actively growing its U.S. business.
Ready to enter service this month
And that includes the production site. Now that the Production Certificate is available, acknowledging that the company has established a quality management and manufacturing capability to produce aircraft that conform to the approved Type Design, Matternet is ready to manufacture, and this will happen at its Mountain View, California facility, along with testing and airworthiness certificate issuance. The first drones are expected to enter service this month, already. Commenting on the granted Production Certificate, Andreas Raptopoulos, Founder and CEO of Matternet, said: “Receiving an FAA Production Certificate is yet another milestone establishing Matternet as the first – and currently only – company able to produce certified delivery drone systems in the United States. The aircraft produced under this Certificate will be the very ones that lead a transformation of how we deliver time-sensitive materials, especially in critical industries like health care.”
VoloDrone Completes Deconfliction Flights in Germany
Volocopter sent out a press release the same day, 30NOV22, with this title and a small video showing some of the testing being carried out at the DLR National Experimental Test Centre for Unmanned Aircraft, Magdeburg-Cochstedt Airport, Germany: https://mediahub-volocopter.pixxio.media/gobackend/mediaserver?fp=%2FfileOrigs%2Fdz%2FDZXO0NZnnI0wXtg0eD_-1669824293_2248341.mp4
It announced that the two-week-long CORUS-XUAM test flight campaign regarding its multirotor heavy-lift cargo carrier, the VoloDrone, had been successful: “The successful flight tests of the VoloDrone at Cochstedt bring this year’s CORUS-XUAM project to a close. Volocopter is pleased to have reliably conquered all the necessary ATM/UTM testing items with our passenger air taxi, cargo aircraft, and the VoloIQ, all to the highest levels of safety. Our team has proven throughout these tests that our aircraft, operations, and digital software can safely adapt to various test flight scenarios. To ultimately establish a robust UAM ecosystem, we will continue to test and improve the ATM/UTM interfaces beyond the testing sandbox, as well as improve communications with individual partners within each country’s ecosystem.”
Gearing up for commercial service in 2024
Though the drone had physically flown above Cochstedt, Germany, the digital use cases were based on simulated Frankfurt Airport and London Airports. The idea was to see how the VoloDrone coped with unforeseen circumstances, obstacles, and other traffic. Was the unmanned drone capable of changing speeds and safe navigation? The success of this latest test series brings Volocopter closer to UAM integration to lower airspace and its goal of commencing commercial service in large cities such as Paris or Singapore, by 2024. “Ongoing testing has resulted in several improvements to Volocopter’s VoloDrone. The features of the new-and-improved cargo drone were revealed during this test campaign. They included the adoption of scalable aluminum rotor beams, lightweight and durable fiberglass housing, and overhauled fuselage design,” the release concludes.
Natilus and Janicki partner for production
Meanwhile, over in San Diego, Natilus announced – also on 30NOV22 – that it had selected to partner with the privately owned, American, full-service engineering and manufacturing company, Janicki “to design, fabricate and provide Quality Assurance of primary composite structures for the Natilus 3.8T Prototype”. Talk is of “the world’s first purposefully designed and manufactured autonomous aircraft for air freight transport.” CFG reported: https://www.cargoforwarder.eu/2022/02/13/a-new-class-of-freight-aircraft/
Natilus CEO Aleksey Matyushev, explained: “We selected Janicki because they are a family-owned and operated company, founded and run by engineers with the highest qualifications and experience in designing large-scale, high-precision prototypes, tools and production parts.” John Janicki, President of Janicki, commented: “Janicki is pleased to partner with Natilus on the 3.8T prototype. Autonomous aircraft are the future of the air freight industry, and we are very excited to be working on this leading-edge project.” Both companies are very keen on ensuring that they will produce “the most advanced and sustainable products, while being responsible stewards of our environment, instituting practices that protect the environment through continual improvements to save fuel and water, reduce waste, air emissions, noise, and material consumption.” Natilus’ N3.8T, too, is scheduled to fly in 2024.
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