Droneliner Designed For Shipping Containers


A British company says its proposed cargo drones can carry up to 80 standard lightweight 20-foot shipping containers using “hybrid turbofan” engines that can use sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and hydrogen. Droneliner is proposing two models of its massive aircraft, the DL 200 that can carry 200 tons and the DL 350 that can pack 350 tons 6,500 nautical miles. The all-up weight of the big one is 600 tons. “Droneliner can reduce the cost of airfreight by more than 70% and bring it down to levels comparable to sea freight while also reducing delivery time and emissions,” the company said in its announcement.

The smaller aircraft will hold more than 40 containers on two levels and the big one will take 80 containers on three levels. The drones are remotely piloted rather than autonomous, and the company says the lack of crew and accommodations for them saves a substantial amount of money. The have a unique double trussed airfoil design that the company says has “ultra low drag.” The company didn’t mention a cost or what ground infrastructure might be required for the massive airframes.

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.

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  1. Implies that crew costs contribute over 70% of expense? (accounting for extra drone computer costs and monitoring).
    Low-drag, efficient air freight is a great idea. Making it a drone and droning on about SAF and hydrogen, not so much.

    • I am guessing they are figuring on not pressurizing the aircraft and so significantly reducing the weight (and therefore fuel burn) and the maintenance costs of the pressurization system.

      They are quoting 600 tons for the all up weight of the large aircraft which is less than the AN-225 so they have to be planning a really light structure to get there.

      As far as the SAF and Hydrogen they are probably trying to get government funding to help and right now that is a good way to get government money. I work for the USAF and in the USAF right now you can get money for anything if you can tie it to additive manufacturing or digital engineering since those are the big buzz word items right now.

      • The strut-braced wings are a major weight factor too. In fact they likely were an initial driver in the concept development.

    • “Popular Mechanics Magazine”–GREAT ANALOGY for an IDEA for a product that doesn’t exist–and that would require massive expenditures on new and unproven systems to develop and operate (let alone to integrate into the current systems.)

      Those of us “of a certain age” recall the Communist countries and their “Great Leap Forward” and “20 year plans”–virtually NONE of them actually went beyond the drawing board. Unlike those Communist “Central Planning” projects–for the “true believers”, I’m sure that these “futurists” would gladly let those that believe this dream to actually “get in on the ground floor and buy stock!”

      Or not.

  2. Popular Mechanics and Popular Science. Fun to read 40 year old copies and see the near 100% (if not 100%) failed predictions for the future.

  3. Increased propulsive efficiency? They have the engine mounted where it is inhaling almost 100% dirty boundary layer air. Also, it appears to have a huge CG problem.

  4. That must be one really large engine to get over a million pounds of weight airborne. My other curiosity is the rather large set of wheels. I can’t imagine how one would land this monster on all the wheels at once. Plus, unless it has all-wheel steering, how would you ever maneuver on the ground through turns without damaging some of the tires?

    • Details, details!! If you have imagination to come up with this, the same imagination can fix minor things like thrust, CG, and tires! 😉

  5. What happens when the remote pilot link is interfered with by natural causes or jammed by a malicious actor?

  6. Anyone remember Boeing’s Pelican? I read about it probably a decade ago – it was to be a huge ground effect turboprop freighter carrying, I think, 150 containers. It would have traveled around 200kts but apparently one of the big technical issues was developing a radar that could identify both ships and large rouge waves (it was to fly the Pacific in ground effect).