Slovenia-based light aircraft manufacturer, Pipistrel, recently unveiled its NUUVA series of autonomous electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The flagship of this family is the V300, which is described by the company as a long-range, large-capacity, heavyweight autonomous platform that will be used in support of logistics and aerial cargo delivery operations. Pipistrel has identified the air cargo market as a business area that could benefit greatly from eVTOL UAVs, adding that it believes it “is ripe for disruption with highly efficient and economical vehicles, such as the Nuuva V300”. The design and development of this family of systems have been heavily informed by the experience the company gained during its 801 eVTOL urban air mobility (UAM) project.
Pipistrel claims that the V300 “operates 10x more economically than today’s helicopters, requires no runways and brings enhanced safety and reliability using Pipistrel’s type-certified electric engines”. To complement the V300, the Slovenian company is also developing the V20 for ‘last-mile delivery’ missions. Although it is smaller and more lightweight, the V20 has a high degree of commonality with its larger counterpart, including the same architecture and cargo delivery advantages.
Pipistrel intends to hand over its first examples of the V20 to customers this year and anticipates that the V300 will enter service in the second half of 2023.
Pipistrel has incorporated a hybrid-electric power-train with dedicated lift and cruise propulsion systems into the Nuuva V300. For take-off and landing, the UAV employs eight type-certified independent lithium battery-powered E-811 electric engines – which are manufactured by Pipistrel. The aircraft’s batteries can be charged by plugging the system into the company’s SkyCharge and Green Motion charging stations.
Alongside the E-811s, the V300 also features an internal combustion engine, located in the aft fuselage, that powers a pusher propeller for cruising in flight. The firm adds that this offers “unbeatable fuel economy and low maintenance costs”.
The V300 has a maximum speed of 220km/h and an ‘economy’ cruising speed of 165km/h. It has a cruising altitude of up to 19,700ft and a total endurance of 12 hours. The system features an integrated health self-monitoring system that provides operators with alerts of potential malfunctions before they occur. This has been included to enhance the reliability and safety of the UAV.
The manufacture adds that the “revolutionary zero-emission power-train is entirely liquid-cooled, including the batteries, and has demonstrated the ability to withstand faults, battery thermal runaway events, and crash loads as part of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency’s certification process”.
The V300’s nose section lifts to create a large opening for cargo loading, which can be done using a regular forklift. In its standard configuration, the UAV can carry up to three Euro-pallets, although the company states other types of containers can be loaded and the platform is customisable to suit operator requirements.
During transportation, cargo is secured using straps and restraint nets, combined with fuselage hatches that ensure the freight is tied down correctly.
Pipistrel states that the V300 can transport a 50kg payload as far as 2,500km, “without compromising the ability to take-off and land vertically from altitudes as high as 8,000ft”. It adds that a typical mission payload is 300kg, but at the expense of its range and altitude threshold, it can carry a maximum payload of 460kg, which would prove beneficial for shorter missions. For comparison, the more lightweight V20 can carry up to 20kg of cargo.
The Nuuva V300 has been designed with a tandem-wing configuration, which employs fly-by-wire control surfaces to enhance the UAV’s aerodynamics and boost its overall efficiency.
Pipistrel claims that this tandem-wing configuration also “reduces the landing footprint of the vehicle and assures a wider centre-of-gravity margin”.
The Slovenian company has selected Honeywell to provide a highly reliable, triple-redundant compact flight control system for the Nuuva series of eVTOL UAVs.
Ivo Boscarol, founder and CEO of Pipistrel Group, announced last October: “Honeywell’s expertise and the proven capabilities of its compact fly-by-wire system will provide airliner levels of safety for our novel air vehicles.”
The system that will be featured in Pipistrel’s Nuuva V300/V20 is roughly the size of a paperback book. It is intended for use in smaller autonomous cargo platforms and UAM vehicles and provides stability and performance for the aircraft’s flight controls electrically, negating the need for heavier hydraulics, control cables and pushrods.
During operations, the V300 receives a preloaded flight plan at a ground control station before take-off. After it has departed, the UAV flies to its destination fully autonomously using the Honeywell system. The platform will be in continuous communication with a ground operator, who will manage the aircraft and can take ultimate control of the platform if the flight is cancelled or the flight plan changes.
At present, aerial cargo is delivered largely by rotorcraft. Pipistrel states that although helicopters are “excellent for hovering but become much less efficient in cruise flight”. This is because they completely rely on their rotors to generate lift, and require frequent maintenance and inspection due to their complex flight mechanics, which increases operational costs.
Pipistrel adds: “The Nuuva V300 combines the best of both aeroplane and helicopter air cargo transportation principles. The unmanned eVTOL capability enables it to go where no aeroplane is able to while operating at a fraction of the cost of a helicopter on an equivalent mission. Nuuva V300, with its efficiency and autonomy, is targeting to deliver a 10x improvement in economics to the operator.”
Capacity: up to 460 kg of cargo on 3 euro-pallets
Length: 11.3 m
Wingspan: 13.2 m
Height: 3.1 m
Wing area: 23 m²
Max takeoff weight: 1,700 kg
Fuel capacity: 81 L typical, 410 L maximum, MOGAS or AVGAS
Powerplant: 1 × internal combustion aircraft engine
Powerplant: 8 × Pipistrel E-811 electric engine, powered by lithium batteries
Propellers: 2-bladed vertical lift units
Maximum speed: 220 km/h
Cruise speed: 165 km/h
Range: 300 km with 300 kg of payload
Service ceiling: 20,000 ft
Rate of climb: 590 ft/min