Dufour Aerospace

A transport drone with hybrid propulsion

Drones are not the right answer for every type of goods transport. But, when it comes to time-critical shipments or operations in rough terrain, they can scarcely be bettered. These are exactly the sorts of application that the Aero2 from Dufour Aerospace AG has been designed for.

Anyone wanting to build a drone capable of transporting loads of up to 40 kilograms needs a lot of aviation experience. That’s because commercial drones need to be certified as aircraft, and stringent reliability and safety requirements apply. Thomas Pfammatter, co-founder and CEO of Dufour Aerospace, has that experience: he has flown over 4000 rescue missions as a helicopter pilot for Air Zermatt.

Pfammatter founded Dufour Aerospace AG in 2017, after previously building an electrically powered aerobatic aircraft, the Aero1. With the new company, he is now designing its successor, the Aero2: an unmanned drone powered by four propellers that can transport a payload of 40 kilograms up to 400 kilometres. The Aero2 is a tilt-wing aircraft – this means the wings can rotate so that the propellers spin horizontally like a helicopter’s during take-off and landing. In cruise flight, the drone then flies like a propeller-driven aircraft.

The drone has a hybrid electric propulsion system. The rotors are powered by the on-board battery during take-off and landing. In cruise flight, combustion engines supply the power, while simultaneously recharging the battery. When cruising, the drone needs a fraction of the energy a helicopter uses to move the same payload. With a consumption of four kilos of petrol an hour, depending on the application, it is even more economical than a car covering the same distance on the ground.

Dufour Aerospace expects the drone to be used to transport time-critical medical supplies to hospitals and laboratories, or to deliver goods to islands or over rough terrain. And, when equipped with high-performance cameras, the drone offers an energy-saving alternative to observation helicopter flights such as those carried out by German and US police. Another potential use is in the early detection and suppression of forest fires.

The prototype of the Aero2 took off for the first time in 2021; series production will start in 2025. The drone subsidiary of Air Methods, the United States’ largest operator of search and rescue helicopters, has already decided to go with the Swiss airlifter. And it doesn’t stop there: for Dufour Aerospace and its 50 employees, the Aero2 is a milestone on the way to a fully electrically powered aircraft capable of transporting eight people.