The landscape of aviation is rapidly evolving, and one of the most exciting developments is the advent of remotely piloted and autonomous aircraft. While the concept might seem distant for passenger commercial aviation, companies like Natilus and Ameriflight are spearheading groundbreaking initiatives in the realm of cargo aviation. This article explores the collaboration between Natilus and Ameriflight, focusing on the development of a cutting-edge ground control station and Natilus’ ambitious plans for remotely operated cargo aircraft.
Natilus’ Remotely Operated Cargo Aircraft:
Natilus, a US-based UAV developer, is at the forefront of innovation in aviation. The company is actively engaged in the development of a series of remotely operated cargo aircraft, each designed for specific payload capacities. The smaller Kona, with a payload of 3.8 tons, has already seen the first scale prototype taking flight in 2023. Natilus is also working on the Alisio, a medium/long-range UAV with a 60-ton payload, and the Nordes, a long-range UAV capable of carrying a whopping 100-ton payload.
Ground Control Station – Natilus Pilot Operations Desk (POD):
In a strategic partnership with Ameriflight, Natilus has introduced the Natilus Pilot Operations Desk (POD). This ground control station is a game-changer in the training of remote pilots for Natilus’ autonomous cargo aircraft. The POD is designed to seamlessly integrate with Natilus’ family of next-generation cargo aircraft, providing a cloud-based network that manages real-time data filtering and layering for pilots.
Key Features of the POD:
The Natilus POD connects to a cloud network that handles a myriad of data streams, including redundant command and control (C2) links, air traffic control (ATC) communications, 4D air traffic situational awareness, meteorological data, and relevant airspace advisories. This integration facilitates continuous, real-time operational decision-making for pilots. The scalability of the POD development allows a single operator to monitor up to three Natilus aircraft simultaneously. Moreover, pilots will have the flexibility to work from an operations center closer to their residence, enhancing convenience and efficiency in cargo operations.
Ameriflight’s Role in Testing and Feedback:
Ameriflight, a US cargo airline that has already placed an order for 20 Natilus Kona autonomous feeder cargo aircraft, is actively involved in hands-on testing of the POD. The feedback provided by Ameriflight is crucial in refining the POD and preparing it for real-world cargo operations. This collaborative approach ensures that operational requirements are addressed early in the development process.
Future Prospects and Commitments:
Natilus is currently working on the construction of a full-scale Kona technology demonstrator, boasting an impressive 85-foot wingspan. With over $6.8 billion in order commitments and 460+ aircraft in pre-orders from major airlines and integrators, Natilus is poised for a significant impact on the air cargo industry.
The collaboration between Natilus and Ameriflight represents a transformative moment in cargo aviation. The development of the Natilus Pilot Operations Desk underscores the commitment to innovation and collaboration in the pursuit of safer, more efficient, and technologically advanced cargo operations. As the aviation landscape continues to evolve, Natilus and Ameriflight stand as pioneers in shaping the future of remotely operated cargo aircraft and ground control systems.