22 AUG 2023
Authored by AJE
The Swiss-based heavy-lifter eVTOL manufacturer, Dufour Aerospace, is one of the few success stories in the European Drone Delivery industry. The success of Dufour can be traced through the history of its founders, especially the serial entrepreneur Mr. Thomas Pfammatter, CEO of Dufour. Alongside a long list of achievements in the business world, he has also worked as a search & rescue pilot for the past 30 years. Thus, Mr. Pfammatter is one of the most knowledgeable experts in the drone delivery industry. We had the great pleasure of asking him a few questions about how everything came together and how he envisions the future of Dufour and the industry in general.
What was the triggering point that made you decide to co-found Dufour with your colleagues, and what drives you to continue leading this ambitious project?
We started with a proof of concept and built the world's first aerobatic electric aircraft called the Aero1, which is still flying today and testing our propulsion system (similar to the Aero2 redundant system). The outstanding flying experience and performance then led to the realization that eVTOL aircraft are actually possible. This led to the creation of Dufour Aerospace, together with my two co-founders Dominique Steffen and Jasmine Kent.
Today, we are driven by the outstanding impact that Aero2 will have on the way we search and rescue people, fight fires, transport critical goods, and plant tree seeds. The impact on our society and planet will be huge.
Over the past 5 years, what have been the most successful moments and challenges for Dufour?
Challenging is certainly fundraising in these times. We have less availability of money than most others. I am even prouder of what our team achieved (thousands of flights, full transitions, and many prototypes that flew and fly) at a much lower cost.
The most successful moments are obviously the technical achievements, especially the confirmation that the tiltwing concept that was invented in the 60s of the last century confirms its validity with modern electric propulsion systems and electronic control. Another area I am proud of is our customers who see the potential of Aero2 and have already signed firm orders.
How close is Dufour to achieving full certification of the Aero2 VTOL platform? How can the certification process be expedited while maintaining safety standards?
This question is not simple to answer as there are different levels of certification involved. We built Aero2 according to the CS LUAS certification guidelines - surely the most stringent ones - and we have also adapted many design features of SC-VTOL (the manned Version eVTOL certification guidelines of EASA) on Aero2. We believe that redundancy is key for future operations, as well as for unmanned aircraft. We expect to have Aero2's entry into the service version certified in mid-2025, and that is where we are working towards. Our team has been involved in more than 70 different aircraft certification programs, from unmanned aircraft and helicopters to Airbus airliners.
We do not believe in expediting the certification process; we believe in a do-it-right and proper approach. However, we do fly pre-series aircraft (small AeroMinis, as well as Aero2s) in less critical environments to build expertise, both with our customers and as unmanned aircraft require a combined process of aircraft, operation, route, and organizational certification.
With the recent order and option from Spright, what is Dufour's manufacturing and scaling-up strategy?
We have 80% of the value (the critical parts of the aircraft) secured with our suppliers to scale up our initial assembly. We are already learning how to assemble Aero2 with the pre-series aircraft that are going to our customers. We expect to start assembling the serial aircraft next year. In the coming years, we plan to increase our presence in other regions of the world, such as the US and Asia.
In addition to drone cargo logistics, can you provide more information on Dufour's exploration of emergency services for search & rescue? Have any proof-of-concepts been executed?
Aero2 is designed to cover the sweet spot of a 40 kg payload. On one side, this covers 90% of critical cargo applications. On the other hand, it allows for the carriage of professional sensors, like those used on helicopters, which typically weigh around 5 - 20 kg and therefore have the capability of helicopters rather than small UAVs. Additionally, there is an additional 20 kg payload that allows for carrying extra sensors, fuel, and droppable payload to assist people or fight fires.
The concept and applications are similar to those used on helicopters but at a fraction of the cost. This makes it an ideal and affordable, yet safer platform to replace these applications. Furthermore, we are testing these applications on our small-scale platform called AeroMini, which is essentially a scaled-down version of Aero2 that we use to develop and test software and applications on a smaller scale.
What are the latest updates and news from Dufour?
There are too many to mention. We are advancing in the development of Aero2 pre-series aircraft, conducting flight tests on the 3rd generation of Aero2 aircraft, receiving significant customer attention, and striving to ensure the certification and construction of these remarkable tilt-wing aircraft. It's also worth mentioning that Aero2 shares almost all components with the manned version Aero3. This allows us to learn and correct mistakes on a smaller platform before proceeding to the larger expenditures associated with building Aero3.