NBAA Convention News

Cargo feeder designed for ‘roll-up’ LDX containers

 - June 18, 2008, 10:01 AM

A Minneapolis company is making plans to produce and sell a new single-engine turbine utility aircraft designed and outfitted for transporting cargo and featuring a “roll-up containerization” concept that it expects to become a worldwide standard.

“The utility aircraft market has not seen a bold new concept for years,” claimed Paul Jackson, president of AeroCourier Group, “and we believe the AeroCourier will revolutionize the air cargo industry.”

The term “roll-up containerization” refers to the fact that the design allows trucks to drive close to the airplane for loading of newly developed “LDX” containers, which can be stacked and locked together to conform to the AeroCourier fuselage shape plus easily roll-up into larger industry-standard containers for transport in larger aircraft.

Jackson said the container design is central to the convenience and efficiency of the operation and, along with the reliability of turbine power, this means it can surpass anything in its category and class. In addition, the projected purchase price will be lower than what he said is its only significant competitor, the Cessna Caravan.

“Currently, the weakest link in airborne express delivery is in the transition from feeder aircraft to large aircraft,” he explained. “Sorting and reliability are the main challenges, and the existing fleet of feeder aircraft is deteriorating.”

The initial design of the aircraft began after AeroCourier Group conducted air express market surveys. Results showed that there was need for an aircraft to supplement and/or replace both new and used equipment, especially in operations of less than 1,000-mi stage lengths and in areas with 150,000 to 400,000 in population.

Paramount to the design were contract lift figures, a combination of mass and weight of typical loads over given operating distances. While there were other factors that contributed to the final configuration of the aircraft, its appearance was not as important as what it could accomplish.

The design includes a high cantilever wing, fixed gear (or floats) and a dimensionally uniform, 5- by 5-ft tubular, unpressurized fuselage displacing about 325 cu ft. Its mtow will be 8,400 lb and it will carry 4,100 lb of payload to a maximum range of 1,200 nm (6.8-hr endurance). Plans also call for single-point fueling capability and a unique and relatively economical integrated avionics system said to be under development.

According to preliminary engineering data, Jackson said that with a 675-shp PT6-114A, the AeroCourier should be able to take off over a 50-ft obstacle in 1,950 ft and land over it in 1,800 ft. Maximum cruise speed is calculated to be 193 kt, and max operating altitude  25,000 ft.

AeroCourier assumes that the chief demand for this type of aircraft is in two major markets with needs for similar solutions: international express–a segment that is projected to grow at 13 percent per year for the next two decades–and global commerce development.

The airplane will be designed for operation on unimproved airstrips, short fields and on water at destinations in the developing and emerging markets of Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa. In addition to its cargo configuration, the AeroCourier can be used by small airlines or tour operations, with seating for 10 passengers.

In production terms, Jackson said he believes the company’s advantages are in both the method and cost of manufacture. He said the group is using a “sharp, low-cost outsourcing approach” in design, development and production, similar to computer manufacturers Dell and Hewlett-Packard, and a contractual partnership has been formed with an unnamed company that has the capacity and appropriate quality for production.

AeroCourier chief financial officer Joel Schlachtenhaufen added that projections show that the aircraft development cost will be “far less than the nine-figure amounts spent historically” in this market.

A model of the aircraft is currently being readied for wind tunnel testing, and a full-scale mockup has been built. When the design is frozen, the first prototype will be built. It also will serve as the conforming certification aircraft.

“We are pleased at the progress we’re making,” Jackson said. “We’ve secured our initial investment and have already signed a production contract for 1,500 units.” Jackson would not elaborate on the details of this claim.