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IndustryAerospace industry
FoundersLZ Zhang
Aleksey Matyushev
Anatoly Starikov[2]
HeadquartersRichmond, California
ProductsCargo aircraft design
RevenueDecrease $309 million (2019)[3]
Decrease $397 million (2018)[3]

Natilus is a Californian startup company developing seaplane UAVs to ship air cargo.


Natilus targets an existing $100 billion per year Trans-Pacific airfreight market, growing due to e-commerce and as 30% of US companies sales are international.

In 2015 it planned to initially operate a fleet of up to five cargo planes with one partner per route and offering the cargo insurance for the first year, saving operational costs for freight forwarders and increasing the profit margin by 20%.[4] Natilus hopes to build hundreds of the drones, to operate itself under its customer brands or to sell them directly to customers like UPS and FedEx or "medium freight forwarders" like Whole Foods and Costco.[2] It would cost about one-tenth of a crewed freight aircraft, and transoceanic trips would cost about half as much as standard air freight.[5]

Natilus hopes to balance speed with cost, shipping time-sensitive freight that isn't valuable enough to fly, but is more valuable than much of what sails, like perishable food, basic electronic components, vehicles, pharmaceuticals. Bulkier and cheaper goods like crude oil or clothing would still travel slowly but cheaply by sea and high-end goods like sushi-grade fish or luxury cars would still fly faster for more money.[6]Freight is a $15.5 trillion market worldwide.[7]


Natilus concept

The craft would carry 100 t (220,000 lb) in freight containers and unit load devices. It would be towed from a sea ports outside of territorial waters, mostly at 19 km (10 nmi) from shorelines, to takeoff within 6,000 ft (1,800 m) in a sea state swell up to 8 ft (2.4 m). It would fly across the Pacific ocean in 30 hours at 20,000 ft (6,100 m), well below passenger air traffic and would be towed to a sea port after landing. Made of carbon fibre and fibreglass composites, its production cost is estimated at $25 million, much lower than jetliners due to fewer onboard systems and no pilots, it would be powered by jet engines developed by Pratt & Whitney.[4]

The 2020 carbon-fiber full-scale 200 ft (61 m) long turboprop drone design is simple without a cockpit, landing gear, or pressurization and would taxi into port remotely controlled at about 30 kn (56 km/h).[5] Landing gear room is leaved for future use in the 140 ft (43 m) wide large drone.[6] Natilus aims to ship 200,000 lb (91 t) from Los Angeles to Shanghai in 30h for $130,000 at $3 per gallon of jet fuel, while a Boeing 747 takes 11h for $260,000 and a cargo ship takes 504 hours for $61,000 [8]


A 6 m (20 ft) wingspan scale model will test the autopilot and water take-off and landing. In July 2015, it was targeted to fly within 18 months before a full scale aircraft three years later.[4]

Natilus raised $750,000 of venture capital from Tim Draper and was incubated at the aviation-oriented Starburst Accelerator in Los Angeles. Natilus hopes to fly its 30 ft (9.1 m) prototype, comparable in size and weight with a Predator drone, between Los Angeles and Hawaii on 30-hour test runs, carrying up to 700 lb (320 kg) of cargo. The over 200 ft (61 m) full-scale drone would be finished by 2020 to be flight tested and certified before commercial flights.[2]

A launch customer wants an 80 ft (24 m) long cargo with a 40,000 lb (18 t) capacity for 2019, to fly the Los Angeles to Hawaii route, before a 140 ft (43 m) long craft with a 200,000 lb (91 t) capacity would fly between the U.S. and China by 2020.[5] About 70% complete in May 2017, the prototype seaplane will lack a landing gear, its maximum gross weight is 2,200 lb (1,000 kg), its wingspan is 30 ft (9.1 m) and it will cruise at 100 kn (190 km/h).[6]

In August 2017, smaller 2 to 10 t (4,400 to 22,000 lb) cargo-drones were envisioned, with large cargo doors and designed for a 120 kg/m3 (200 lb/cu yd) dimensional weight.[9]

In November 2017, Natilus closed a second round of seed funding from Starburst Ventures, Seraph Group, Gelt VC, Outpost Capital and Draper Associates. Using existing turbofan and turboprop engines, a 12,000 lb (5.4 t) drone with a retractable landing gear would carry 2 t (4,400 lb) over 1,000 nmi (1,900 km) between local regional airports; the 120 t (260,000 lb) payload craft would weight 950,000 lb (430 t) for trans-Pacific routes.[7]

The 2-tonne payload freighter would have a blended wing body configuration.[10] In December 2017, water-taxiing of the 9 m (30 ft) wide prototype was going to be tested in San Francisco Bay, before flight testing in 2018 and the 2 t (4,400 lb) capable freighter by 2020.[1]

In February 2018, the 2,200 lb (1.00 t), 30 ft (9.1 m)-span prototype was being prepared for flight from San Pablo Bay, north of San Francisco, powered by a single Rotax 912 piston. The next aircraft will be a blended wing body (BWB) landplane, providing 30% more volume. The first product will be a small regional freighter powered by a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A with a 3.5-4.5 t (7,700-9,900 lb) cargo capacity and a 20,000 lb (9.1 t) MTOW, to fly in 2020 and to be certified under the FAR Part 23 within 3.5 years from February 2018.[11]

See also


  1. ^ a b Jeremy Hsu (27 Dec 2017). "Cargo Industry Tests Seaplane Drones to Deliver Freight". IEEE Spectrum. Startup Natilus's prototype aims to complete its first water trials, with flight tests to follow.
  2. ^ a b c Daniel Terdiman (Mar 27, 2017). "A Startup's Plan To Cut Air Freight Costs In Half With 777-Size Drones". Fast Company. In 2020, Natilus's huge unmanned planes could carry 200,000 pounds of goods across the world. But first, a 30-foot prototype must pass test runs.
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ a b c Rob Coppinger (Jul 15, 2015). "Seaplane cargo drone offers free insurance". Air Cargo Week.
  5. ^ a b c Mary Grady (March 28, 2017). "Startup Envisions Transoceanic Cargo Drones". AVweb.
  6. ^ a b c Ed Darack (May 10, 2017). "Meet Natilus, the Jumbo Drone". Air & Space/Smithsonian. A small startup aims to capture some of the huge global shipping business.
  7. ^ a b "As Autonomous Technology Transforms the Global Freight Sector, Natilus Attracts More Seed Investment from Starburst Ventures, Seraph Group, Gelt VC, Outpost Capital and Draper Associates" (Press release). Starburst Ventures. Nov 13, 2017. Large cargo-capacity drone poised to challenge incumbents on price and scale as it prepares for first flight test.
  8. ^ "Natilus".
  9. ^ Lewis King (August 4, 2017). "Natilus to build smaller e-commerce cargo drone". Air Cargo World.
  10. ^ King, Lewis (November 13, 2017). "Natilus cargo drone closes second round of seed funding". Air Cargo World.
  11. ^ Graham Warwick (Feb 2, 2018). "Unmanned Cargo Aircraft Head Toward Flight Tests". Aviation Week & Space Technology.

External links

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