Dronamics has confirmed UK-based Cranfield Aerospace Solutions (CAeS) as its preferred supplier of hydrogen fuel cell powertrains, a move that could see the cargo drone specialist order thousands of the developmental propulsion systems.

Working via a memorandum of understanding (MoU) disclosed on 12 October, CAeS will seek to integrate its fuel cell powertrain into Dronamics Black Swan uncrewed cargo aircraft.

Dronamics Black Swan-c-Dronamics

Source: Dronamics

First flight of the Black Swan took place in May 2023

The pair have been collaborating since signing a previous MoU in November 2022, which saw them carry out a feasibility study on the potential use of the fuel cell system on the Black Swan.

That concluded the hydrogen powertrain was “well-suited to meet the required payload, cargo volume and range for the Black Swan aircraft.”

Dronamics says the Black Swan can carry a payload of up to 350kg (770lb) on routes of up to 1,350nm (2,500km). Cargo volume is listed as 3.5cb m (125cb ft).

CAeS plans to develop a “modification pack” for the Black Swan to allow replacement of the stock Rotax combustion engine on in-service aircraft with the fuel cell system.

It says the powertrain is “a half-scale version” of the 250kW system it is developing as a retrofit for a Britten-Norman BN-2 Islander under a UK government-backed scheme.

Additionally, the new agreement also includes a letter of intent covering the supply of a “substantial number” of the propulsion systems from 2026.

This, says CAeS, brings its “total pipeline to over 1,300 drivetrains”. To date, it has revealed agreements for just 88 powertrains from Monte Aircraft Leasing (40), Air New Zealand (23) and Evia Aero (25).

First flight of the Black Swan took place on 25 May this year from Balchik airport in Bulgaria. Dronamics hopes to begin commercial cargo flights this year.

CAeS, meanwhile, has yet to fly its new fuel cell propulsion system; that milestone is not expected until 2024.