Russian researchers have started investigating a new twinjet cargo aircraft design which would be capable of operating unmanned.

The concept – designated the light high-speed transport aircraft – is being analysed by Moscow’s Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute, as part of a Russian trade and industry ministry contract.

Preliminary designs show the proposed aircraft would have a high-wing and T-tail configuration, and the elimination of the cockpit means it can feature a hinged forward fuselage that swings open for nose-loading.

It would be able to carry a containerised payload of up to 6t over a range of 2,160nm (4,000km).

unmanned freighter 3

Source: Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute

Freight would be loaded through the nose

“Unmanned civil aviation is one of the most promising areas in the aircraft industry, both technically and economically,” says Alexander Krutov, a junior aerodynamics researcher at the institute.

While the institute envisions the aircraft competing with turboprop types including the Antonov An-24, Ilyushin Il-112V, and ATR 42, it would be able to fly at 450-460kt.

“Initial calculations of flight performance have been carried out,” it adds. The development work will shift to focus on aerodynamic characteristics, including analysis of high-lift surfaces for the wing, and optimisation of structural weight.

As well as offering weight savings, and operational economics through the absence of crew, the aircraft would need only a 1,300m (4,270ft) runway from which to operate. The institute says this means it could serve “most of Russia’s airports”.

unmanned freighter 2

Source: Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute

Researchers state that the unmanned aircraft would cruise at 32,000-42,000ft