ILA Part 2: Hydrogen freighters. Today’s Vision, tomorrow’s reality

Currently, they are still just models in combination with concept studies presented by start-ups and niche providers at congresses or air shows,. However, the age of H2 powered smaller cargo aircraft is coming closer. This was proven at the International Air Show ILA Berlin, where a new generation of smaller freighters was presented by their developers. CargoForwarder Global showcases some of the latest and also stunning projects displayed there.

Johannes Garbino-Anton is co-founder and CEO of NEX.Aero  – photo: CFG/hs

The White Whales are coming
The eVTOL is not yet flying. However, a prototype with a wingspan of 4 meters is to be presented by the end of this year, announces producer, NEX Aero GmbH. Following successful certification, this precursor is to be replaced by a prototype twice as large with twice the load capacity. According to the manufacturer, the initially planned prototype can carry 180 kg and fly over a distance of 450 km. Unlike the Black Swan drone from supplier Dronamics, it does not require an airfield for operation as it can take off and land vertically. This makes the White Whale suitable for point-to-point traffic, emphasizes Johannes Garbino-Anton, co-founder and CEO of eVTOL operator, NEX.Aero: “We only need an area of 20 x 20 meters to take off or land. Logistics centers around airports or in the vicinity of cities are suitable for this.” This results in high deployment options for the aircraft, and no investment in ground infrastructure is required. Another advantage: feeder transports from manufacturers to airports or in the opposite direction after shipments arrive at airports, are no longer required. This customer-centric deployment option fundamentally distinguishes the White Whale from those aerial service providers whose business model is based on the use of airports.

NEX-Aero estimates that the freighter will commence commercial ops at the end of 2027 or beginning of 2028 – image: company courtesy

A freighter made by printers
The H2 powered eVTOL is being built in the middle of Berlin, near the historic and now decommissioned Tempelhof airfield. Five 3D printers are located in the Ullsteinhaus there. They were in constant operation for two months until the carbon fiber fuselage and the main components of the aircraft were ready. “The White Whale is the world’s largest aircraft ever printed on a 3D printer,” says Johannes Garbino-Anton, not without pride. It is also an innovative novelty in this respect.
As soon as the hybrid product – half aircraft, half drone – has completed its first flight tests at the national test airfield in Cochstedt at the end of 2024 or in Q1 2025, NEX will apply for EASA type certification. The manufacturer estimates that it will take 2.5 years before this is granted. NEX then intends to start constructing a passenger version for 4 passengers. “The pioneering experiences we gain with the freighter will be incorporated there and accelerate the passenger project,” the executive states.
During takeoff and landing, electric propulsion will power the props, while hydrogen will be used during forward flight. “H2 allows for longer ranges and higher payload,” emphasizes the company. The motors are supplied by a Czech manufacturer with whom NEX cooperates closely. The aircraft is operated remotely by a specially trained pilot.

The first users are already determined
The main financier of the project is a tech investor from Berlin, who has invested 3.5 million euros. This has secured the development and construction of the White Whale, assures Manager Garbino-Anton. Asked about users, he says that there are already three launching customers, including a freight forwarding company, an operator of offshore wind farms, and an operator of ground-based ILS landing systems at airports that can be precisely surveyed from the air. According to Mr. Garbino-Anton, NEX is aiming to break even in 2028/29.

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