2015-05 Master's assignment: development of a 'clean' ummanned cargo aircraft

Design of an environmentally friendly unmanned cargo aircraft

Background Information

Unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) are rapidly gaining interest in the civil transport aviation sector. These remotely or autonomously controlled systems are already widely used for military operations. Further developments based on emerging technologies for extensive civil transport applications are promising. The advantages for civil transport by unmanned cargo aircraft (UCA) as compared to manned air vehicles (MAV) speak for themselves (simpler and cheaper airframe, build, purchase and maintenance; more reliable and cheaper for long and routine operations due to higher degree of automation). Moreover, UCA have good potential for environmentally friendly operation. Present civil exploitation of UAVs already includes e.g. earth observation and law enforcement. Further commercial exploitation in air transport would require continued technological developments and design investigations specifically addressing the business needs and market potential of UCAs. Other important issues that will impact UCA design are the legal aspects related to airspace, airworthiness and operations of UCAs.


The proposed research aims for a conceptual design study of a small UCA for which environmentally friendly operation is the number 1 priority. Design goals and constraints are given as a set of business needs, desired payload, range and a few other basic requirements. The UCA design shall exploit all available means (technology, flight profile, operating procedures etc.) to minimize all relevant negative environmental impacts (harmful emissions, toxic materials, wasteful production techniques etc.) expressed per ton- mile of cargo transported.

Key objective

  • Key objective of this assignment is to explore the potential technologies to achieve environmentally friendly operating UCA


  • Investigate and define market potential, business needs and specifications for the intended UCA;
  • Select/quantify/prioritize/operationalize 'relevant environmental impacts (like various emissions)
  • Identify the relationships between the characteristics of a UCA and the environmental impacts
  • Identify design options to minimize environmental impacts
  • Integrate an optimal combination of design options into the conceptual design of a UCA
  • Design, if needed, the environmentally optimal flight profile and operating procedures for the UCA
  • Assess the expected environmental impact of the UCA


Duration: 4-9 months
Location: NLR Amsterdam
Internship level: MSc Mech.Eng. / Aeron.Eng.
Start date: ASAP


Drs. René Wiegers
Collaborative Engineering & Systems dept.
E: Rene.Wiegers@nlr.nl

Y:\TEKST\Projects\Platform Onbemande Vrachtvliegtuigen\UNMANNED_CARGO_AIRCRAFT.jpg