Blended Wing Cargo Drone Gets Hydrogen Power


Hydrogen-electric propulsion company ZeroAvia has teamed with Natilus, which has designed an autonomous blended wing body cargo plane that might offer some advantages in making a commercially viable aircraft. The spacious interior of the Kona has more room to store hydrogen than conventional designs and that might tip the balance in getting the range necessary to make a useable aircraft.

In a news release, Natilus CEO Aleksey Matyushev said the plane will carry up to 9,000 pounds of cargo and predicts transcontinental range. Natilus has done wind tunnel testing on scale prototype and ZeroAvia has a working engine that’s been flown eight times on a 19-seat test aircraft. Based on that, Natilus is claiming $6.8 billion in orders and Zero Avia has contracts with Textron and Otto Aviation. “The Natilus-ZeroAvia partnership goes further, bringing the talents and innovations of the two companies together to deliver much needed innovation in the air cargo delivery industry and multiple solutions for our customers, Matyushev said.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

Other AVwebflash Articles


  1. Is this CGI Photo all we have to go on as to the shape, size and configuration? It sure don’t look right. Also the tag line says “Cargo” plane the description says 19 seat. Which is it?

    • Which is it? The 19 seat aircraft is merely a test bed for this engine. Airborne engine test beds are not ultimate intended articles for engines being tested. Pratt & Whitney once owned a 747SP engine test bed on which engines of many capabilities eventually destined to power other aircraft were tested. In this case the 19 seat airborne test bed is already otherwise adequately powered thank you.

      • Likewise, General Electric also used a 747 as a flying test bed for the GE-90 engine that ended up on the Boeing 777. It’s a pretty common practice in engine development to use a surrogate aircraft while the intended craft is still in development.

    • The article says the, “(ZeroAvia) engine (has) been flown eight times on a 19-seat test aircraft” and “Natilus has done wind tunnel testing on scale prototype (cargo aircraft)”. So, no contradiction there in my mind.

      As for the apparent CG issue, I think that’s harder to judge visually with the blended wing design. I do agree that this doesn’t feel/look like the final design to me, though. And I still question how viable the whole thing will be commercially. But, the combination and application seems much more plausible to me than many of the other wild-eyed proposals I’ve seen of late.

    • Bingo, Art. Seems to me that the LAST place you’d want a design like this is on a cargo carrying machine. A wide cg range would be the ultimate goal, I’d think. THIS ain’t it. More vaporware to get free $$ from gullible investors. But hey … it’ll run on hydrogen and save the planet which just yesterday Jane Fonda said only has 8 years to go now 🙁

      • Well now, Larry, we should all take her seriously. After all, she was so right about Viet Nam! 😉

  2. All righty then, if Natilus has $6.8 billion in orders, they don’t really need investors, do they?

  3. No question we must ultimately transition away from oil, if only because it is a finite resource. Still, it’s more than a little scary watching it being done on a (possibly artificial) emergency basis, making huge commitments to technological pathways that have major known downsides we don’t yet know how to overcome. Not to mention the unknown ones.

    I won’t be around to see how it works out, but I wish you all the best of luck 🙂

  4. John K.
    No question?? we must transition from oil? There are centuries of oil available for extraction with gradually more expensive and higher-tech processes.
    As for CO2, more is better (talk to greenhouse growers). Higher crop yields per acre will only increase the ability to feed the billions resident on Mother Earth.

    Variable weather? 1900-1960 was much more volatile than 1961-2020. For only one reference, check the history of hurricanes. Go figure.

    One should also look at the indirectly polluting methods of producing hydrogen – unless you have a cheap source of electrolysis like hydro power. And I think the world’s ability to build more mega-dams is about tapped out.

    • Hopefully, B., we (humanity) will be around just a bit longer than a few centuries.
      For the rest, read the post.

  5. CO2 +H2O +energy(electrical and heat)+ catalysts gets you jet fuel, diesel and gasoline.
    Use nukes for the energy bit. The latest nuke plant in Finland collapsed the price of electricity so they’ve throttled it back.
    Synthetic fuels are the long term answer and they are CO2 neutral if you are worried about that nonsense (I spent 5 7 years in the meteorology/Atmospheric/environmental science business before it got all political).
    Electric aviation is marginally possible for self launching sailplanes and trainers which fly around the pattern (why would you train in something that is unlike what you will fly later?) and utter nonsense for airliners etc.
    The exception is for distributed electric propulsion for VTOL, but use a hydrocarbon powered engine for cruise. This gets the battery requirement reasonable.
    Hydrogen is so bad it makes batteries look great. About like a battery that returns about 35% of the energy used to charge it. Even rocket engineers won’t use hydrogen unless they really must or there is a secondary reason like cooling a metallic heat shield for re-entry (se Stoke Space).

    • “CO2 +H2O +energy(electrical and heat)+ catalysts gets you jet fuel, diesel and gasoline” – but this is so energy-inefficient it makes hydrogen look great. This is why folks are testing hydrogen: not that it’s such a great solution – and it may not be as good as ammonia – but because it might not be as bad as synthetic hydrocarbons, and we need to find out if it’s feasible. We already know hydrocarbon-based operations are feasible; we don’t know about cost-effective manufacture of the hydrocarbons, though.

      “why would you train in something that is unlike what you will fly later” – Exactly. Arcane piston stuff about carburetor heat and mixture management and manifold pressure is completely irrelevant to turbine operations. Electric propulsion lets you focus on flying the aircraft, which is the relevant and transferable skill.

      “The exception is for distributed electric propulsion for VTOL, but use a hydrocarbon powered engine for cruise. This gets the battery requirement reasonable.” – Yes, it really does.

  6. I don’t get the fixation on autonomy. It’s a pretty big hurdle to jump, and a project like this has enough to overcome without complicating it further!