Graduation assignments Various topics

2015-09 M-assignment assessing advantages of unmanned cargo aircraft

Master's assignment: the competitive position of unmanned cargo aircraft


Unmanned cargo aircraft (UCA) are a new phenomenon in aviation. Presently, there is only one UCA flying, a K-Max helicopter serving with the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan. But many in the aerospace industry believe that UCA will open new markets, for example connecting isolated regions to the worldwide transport system. In the long run, they may replace manned cargo aircraft used for package transport etc. A few companies are already designing UCA.

One of the barriers to the large- scale introduction of UCA is that the advantages and disadvantages of UCA have not yet been quantified. In theory, UCA can be more efficient, flexible and environmentally friendly than manned aircraft, but it is not clear how big these advantages are. Moreover, these advantages likely manifest themselves only under certain conditions, for example on long-distance flights with relatively small cargo loads.

As long as the advantages of UCA are not quantified, manufacturers are unlikely to make the large-scale investments that are needed to introduce UCA on a worldwide scale. What is needed is an instrument to quantify key characteristics of UCA that determine their usefulness. This instrument should be precise enough to:

  • quantify performance indicators like cost per ton-mile
  • for a UCA design with specific attributes like number and type of engines, weight, cargo hold volume etc.
  • in specific situations; a route with a certain demand for air cargo transport per day, landing on runways with a certain length etc.

Your task

Develop an instrument that uses the attributes of certain types of UCA and specific types of missions as input for quantifying key performance indicators like speed of cargo delivery, cost per ton-mile etc.

Boundary conditions

  1. No more input data concerning the UCA attributes should be necessary than are available from the concept design of a UCA.
  2. Data to be used for estimating route characteristics like runway capacity etc. should generally be available from public sources.
  3. The instrument should be used with the aid of no more than a PC.
  4. The output should make meaningful comparison with competing means of transport possible. Also, it should enable users to assess the potential of cargo routes where there are as yet no means for cargo transportation.
  5. The output should be presented in a way that is understandable for people with no background in aircraft construction.
  6. The logic of the conversion of input to output should be made clear to such an extent that the instrument can be upgraded by people not involved in its design.
  7. A user-friendly manual is to be provided.

Your background

Industrial engineering & Management, or Mechanical or Aerospace engineering (perhaps with a minor in economics), or Transport economics.

Your competencies

You are comfortable with working with quantitative and qualitative information from multiple disciplines. You are familiar with the basic technical and economic aspects of air transport and you not merely like to do research, but also want to use your creativity to design something new. You are able to place yourself in the position of the user of your product.

Interested? Contact Julian Hasinski Ph.D. (Airbus Defense & Space), +44-1633-715937 or dr. Hans Heerkens (University of Twente, Platform Unmanned Cargo Aircraft), +31-53-4893492,