The Aurora LightningStrike is being developed by Aurora Flight Sciences in Manassas, Virginia. The LightningStrike is a military variant of Aurora's VTOL projects.
Stage of Development
LightningStrike is the first aircraft in history designed to demonstrate the following:
- Distributed hybrid-electric propulsion ducted fans
- Innovative synchronous electric-drive system
- Both tilt wing and canard for vertical take-off and landing
- High efficiency in both hover and high-speed forward flight
- Created by Aurora Flight Sciences and partners Rolls-Royce and Honeywell
- Developed for the Vertical Take-Off and Landing Experimental Aircraft (VTOL X-Plane) program
- Funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
|Fuselage length||> 38 ft||11.8 m|
|Overall height||~14 ft||4.3 m|
|Wingspan||> 60 ft||> 18.2 m|
|Tip-to-tip distance||> 60 ft||> 18.2 m|
|Empty weight||~ 11,375 lb||~ 5.16 t|
|Max gross takeoff wt||<13,000 lb||< 5.9 t|
|Useful load||~ 1,625 lb||~ 737 kg|
|Cruise speed||> 300 kt||>555 km/h|
|Propulsors||24 ducted fans|
|Motor output||18x 168 hp + 6x 121 hp||18x 125 kW + 6x 90 kW|
|Power type||hybrid electric|
Our Take on the LightningStrike
Aurora Flight Sciences has a large pool of resources at its disposal - even more so now that Boeing acquired AFS in November of 2017. The LightningStrike seems to be a conscientious effort to corner not just the civilian eVTOL/VTOL market, but also the future of military VTOL applications. The LightningStrike has already completed sub-scale proof of concept test flights, and the full-scale version is most likely being prepared to be built.
The Latest News from TransportUP
XTI Aircraft Receives Japanese Patent for TriFan 600 eVTOLAugust 21, 2019
EHang Achieves World’s First Certificate of Unmanned Aircraft System Safety for AAVsAugust 20, 2019
ROBOpilot Takes Off in Utah, Paving Way to Fully Automated FlightAugust 18, 2019
Back to The Hangar
Boeing Subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences announced yesterday that a recent agreement from DARPA will allow for the transfer of Aurora’s X-plane developed eVTOL technology to commercial applications. The x-plane technology, largely focused on piloting ducted fan and electric battery implementation in vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, will now be slated for wide-spread commercial application. The technology also included tilt-wing and...
Boeing Subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences announced yesterday that a recent agreement from DARPA will allow for the transfer of Aurora’s X-plane developed eVTOL technology to commercial applications.
The x-plane technology, largely focused on piloting ducted fan and electric battery implementation in vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, will now be slated for wide-spread commercial application. The technology also included tilt-wing and tilt-canard-based propulsion.
Why it’s important: DARPA’s involvement in shepherding research-stage technology to commercial wide-scale implementation is indicative of government involvement and activism toward advancing the field of eVTOL aircraft. This announcement also reflects the quantity of work to be done if larger scale regulators, such as the FAA and EASA, plan to certify these new airborne systems as quickly as they are being researched and developed.
On August 21st, Volocopter presented the design for its newest air taxi model: VoloCity. This will be the fourth-generation electrical take-off and landing aircraft (eVTOL) by the German Urban Air Mobility developer. The VoloCity has been designed to meet the safety standards specified by the European Aviation Safety Agency (SC-VTOL category enhanced) and incorporates user feedback as well as test data...
- Payload to accommodate 2 people including hand luggage
- Increased flight efficiency through aerodynamically shaped rotor beams, a newly introduced stabilizer to create increased stability in flight and additional lift
- Iconic design with fluid lines is a seamless continuation of architectural language of the future VoloPort all the while combining unprecedented technological achievements and user comfort
- 200 kg maximum payload
- 18 brushless DC electric motors (BLDC’s)
- 700kg OEW
- 900 kg MTOW
XTI Aircraft has received a utility patent from the Japanese Patent Office for the technology and configuration of the company’s TriFan 600 electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) vehicle. The XTI Aircraft TriFan 600 is an eVTOL that has been in development just outside of Denver, CO, USA since 2012. The aircraft uses three ducted fans to take off vertically...
XTI Aircraft has received a utility patent from the Japanese Patent Office for the technology and configuration of the company’s TriFan 600 electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) vehicle.
The XTI Aircraft TriFan 600 is an eVTOL that has been in development just outside of Denver, CO, USA since 2012. The aircraft uses three ducted fans to take off vertically which rotate towards the horizontal in order to facilitate forward flight. The XTI Tri-fan features a luxury interior, and is designed to meet the evolving needs of modern travelers.
“The patent issued by Japan provides further protection for our unique aircraft in a significant market for us, and enables us to continue to expand our global market,” said Robert LaBelle, Chief Executive Officer of XTI. The issuance of the Japanese patent follows multiple others received by the company from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
On August 5, 2019, XTI announced that due to success under its $25 million Series B private placement, the company is likely to close its equity crowdfunding campaign on the StartEngine platform before the end of 2019. This comes after the company released information regarding its partnership with GE Aviation to provide propulsion for its hybrid-electric aircraft. XTI Aircraft has also announced multiple orders of the TriFan 600 in the past year, notably from Icon Aviation – Brazil’s largest private jet charter company – and Heliflite, a VIP helicopter service in Southeast Asia and Australia.
According to a company press release earlier this month, XTI is following StartEngine’s plans to provide a platform for all XTI shareholders to buy and sell their shares on a secondary market once the crowdfunding campaign closes. “This secondary market will give investors the possibility of earning a return before the company they invested in gets acquired or goes public. ‘XTI will continue to sell shares for $1.50 on StartEngine until the offering closes,’ CEO LaBelle added.”
The six-seat TriFan 600 will have the speed, range and comfort of a luxury business aircraft and the ability to take off and land vertically, like a helicopter. It will travel at 345 miles an hour, with a range of up to 1,200 miles. Using three ducted fans, the TriFan lifts off vertically. Its two wing fans then rotate forward for a seamless transition to cruise speed and its initial climb. It will reach 30,000 feet in just ten minutes and cruise to the destination as a highly efficient business aircraft.” To read more about the TriFan 600, visit the Hangar.
Why it’s important: The legal validation of XTI’s TriFan 600 technology and configuration in the international stage demonstrates the company’s global reach and ability to stretch past the borders of its headquarters state of Colorado. The fulfillment of over 80 orders for the TriFan 600 is eagerly awaited and will serve as an indicator for whether the company is capable of expanding its production to meet global demand.
Sources // XTI Aircraft
(Guangzhou, China, August 20, 2019) – EHang, an autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV) technology platform company, announced that it has become the world’s first company to achieve certificate of unmanned aircraft system (UAS) safety level II for AAVs through tests of the UAS fence. The certificate was issued by the China Academy of Civil Aviation Science and Technology (CAST) and was...
(Guangzhou, China, August 20, 2019) – EHang, an autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV) technology platform company, announced that it has become the world’s first company to achieve certificate of unmanned aircraft system (UAS) safety level II for AAVs through tests of the UAS fence. The certificate was issued by the China Academy of Civil Aviation Science and Technology (CAST) and was internationally recognized among member organizations of the China National Accreditation Service for Conformity Assessment (CNAS).
The tests demonstrated that both the passenger-grade EHang 216 and the non-passenger-grade EHang Falcon can automatically and precisely sense the UAS fence by alerting and avoid it by hovering, landing off or returning before entering the restricted area. The tests also proved that the EHang AAVs could not be started within the fenced areas to ensure safety.
“Passing these tests further establishes EHang as the leader in the UAS fence technology and marks a breakthrough in urban air mobility space,” said Zhang Zhengjuan, a senior engineer at the Civil UAS Inspection Center of CAST. “Significantly, EHang’s command-and-control system is more intelligent in managing the AAVs’ flight routes, and with real-time remote communication via 4G and 5G telecom networks, their operation is simpler and safer than conventional drones manual-controlled by radio frequency within limited distances.”
Why it matters: EHang has made a name for itself in the UAM industry as a proven leader in innovation and technological advancement. Safety software like EHang’s development of a UAS “fence” will help to pave the way to automized routes and unmanned operations, allowing for lower costs and higher eVTOL traffic density. Further, the pursuit of safety-focused design will be critical in getting stakeholders from local governments and the general public who are unsure of the safety of UAM platforms.
The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) in partnership with DZYNE Technologies has successfully flown a 2 hour unmanned mission under its Robotic Pilot Unmanned Conversion Program, ROBOpilot. The program aims to provide reversible conversions to existing aircraft platforms. For this test at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, a 1968 Cessna 206 completed a simple 2 hour flight with...
The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) in partnership with DZYNE Technologies has successfully flown a 2 hour unmanned mission under its Robotic Pilot Unmanned Conversion Program, ROBOpilot. The program aims to provide reversible conversions to existing aircraft platforms. For this test at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, a 1968 Cessna 206 completed a simple 2 hour flight with no humans on board and proved the technology’s abilities. The robot uses sensors, including GPS signals and Inertial Measurement Units to process live data and command the aircraft’s control yoke, rudders, and propulsion systems.
“Imagine being able to rapidly and affordably convert a general aviation aircraft, like a Cessna or Piper, into an unmanned aerial vehicle, having it fly a mission autonomously, and then returning it back to its original manned configuration,” says Alok Das, senior scientist with AFRL’s Center for Rapid Innovation. “All of this is achieved without making permanent modifications to the aircraft.”
ROBOpilot would allow for rapid configuration changes between manned and unmanned operation on-board eVTOL platforms of the future. This flexibility would enable operators to complete missions better suited for unmanned flight. Perhaps more importantly, the technology could push the barriers to fully automated eVTOL operation even lower by offering a relatively low-cost solution to test advanced autoflight software for safety and reliability.
ROBOpilot was built and tested under a Direct to Phase II Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) contract. No plans to expand upon the program have been announced yet.
Why it matters: While many early stage OEMs are proposing manned configuration vehicles, labor costs will remain a predominant expense in UAM economics and some mission profiles may benefit from having no pilot (or human) on board. This technology offers great opportunities to test preliminary unmanned systems software in the urban air mobility space and could pave the path to fully automated eVTOL flight. See video below.
Just this week, Northern California-based startup ZeroAvia joined the likes of Ampaire by operating one of the world’s largest zero-emission aircraft flying without any fossil fuel support. ZeroAvia has exited stealth mode and revealed its design of the hydrogen-fueled electric powertrain inside the plane, which the company has been testing over the past year. While the test flight was actually flown on...
Just this week, Northern California-based startup ZeroAvia joined the likes of Ampaire by operating one of the world’s largest zero-emission aircraft flying without any fossil fuel support.
ZeroAvia has exited stealth mode and revealed its design of the hydrogen-fueled electric powertrain inside the plane, which the company has been testing over the past year. While the test flight was actually flown on electric power, the company says it will run a full test flight with hydrogen on board in a few weeks. By 2022, ZeroAvia plans to “deliver 300-500 mile zero-emission missions in a 10-20 seat fixed wing aircraft to utilize existing infrastructure and simplify regulatory issues.”
ZeroAvia CEO Val Miftakhov articulated that he strongly believes in hydrogren-powered flight, and sees it as a more feasible alternative to battery-powered aircraft. The energy-density of hydrogen fuel cells is claimed to be four times that of the batteries currently available, and could therefore even be adapted to longer range flights for which batteries are not suitable. Additionally, Miftakhov expects hydrogen-powered aircraft to be capable of commerical operations at half the cost of conventional aircraft due to savings on fuel and maintenance. Ampaire also claims a 90% cut in fuel costs and 50% cost in maintenance for their electric aircraft, which is very competitive with Miftakhov’s projections.
Both Ampaire and ZeroAvia are already in talks with airlines, according to their respective CEOs. In fact, Ampaire recently announced a partnership with Mokulele Airlines on Maui to start understanding and optimizing the commerical operation of electric aircraft. The zero-emission technologies could also see early adoption in places like Norway, where the government plans to move to 100% zero-emissions flights by 2040. Even the entire aviation industry is moving toward solutions to reduce emissions, and aims to cut emissions in half by 2050 compared to 2005.
Why it’s important: Similar to Ampaire, ZeroAvia is currently focusing on powertrain development for short to mid-range commercial flights (up to 500 nm) – a market making up nearly half of commercial flights worldwide. It remains to be seen whether Ampaire’s electric-powered aircraft or ZeroAvia’s hydrogen-powered powerplant will see more success in the future, and while electric cars have mostly won out in the automotive industry, the potential for weight savings in hydrogen fuel cells poses a strong alternative in aviation applications.
Sources // ZeroAvia; Ampaire; Flight Global
The Kitty Hawk Flyer, a one-man, manually piloted eVTOL designed for recreational use, has recorded over 25,000 flights with no issues. Including both the Flyer’s prototype stage as well as its more finalized design, Kitty Hawk recently announced that their aircraft had successfully been flown with reliability over 25,000 times, indicating that the company believes that their eVTOL is ready...
The Kitty Hawk Flyer, a one-man, manually piloted eVTOL designed for recreational use, has recorded over 25,000 flights with no issues.
From prototype, to vehicle that has traveled more than 25,000+ times, Flyer is working on making the dream a reality. pic.twitter.com/sBb2kZ7vNw
— Kitty Hawk (@kittyhawkcorp) August 14, 2019
Including both the Flyer’s prototype stage as well as its more finalized design, Kitty Hawk recently announced that their aircraft had successfully been flown with reliability over 25,000 times, indicating that the company believes that their eVTOL is ready to spread through the open market. Currently, the company, based in Mountain View, California, is searching for applications from potential partners who would deploy it in their own communities, such as a travel destination or resort.
Both the Flyer and the Cora, a two-seater autonomous air taxi developed in collaboration with Boeing, could soon be brought to market. For the Flyer, Kitty Hawk has refined the eVTOL to the point where anyone, with or without flight experience, could learn to fly the aircraft within 15 minutes. Public information on the Flyer’s pricing or availability has not been released yet, and will most likely be released after Kitty Hawk has secured a deal with larger partners first.
The Flyer itself is an all-electric personal hoverbike/eVTOL, with a flight time of 12-20 minutes (at 20 mph), although the actual battery life will depend on outside environmental factors and load. It is powered by 10 independant fans, and can operate at an altitude of about 3-10 feet above the water. The vehicle without load weighs 250 lb, and can fly at a maximum speed of about 20 mph (limited by flight control system).
To learn more about the Flyer, visit our aircraft page here.
Why it’s important: The Flyer is a unique eVTOL in that the aim is to only provide short distance transportation, more for leisure or recreation rather than commute or long-distance travel. While the Flyer cannot meet the expectations of an eVTOL for use in the air taxi industry, the reliability and ease of use of the Flyer could do much to improve public perception on the safety and local impact of UAM in urban areas.
Sources // Forecast Wire
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has granted approval for Israeli drone manufacturer Flytrex and drone services firm Causey Aviation Unmanned to provide a drone-based food delivery service. A Flytrex drone makes a delivery overhead. As part of the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program, Flytrex and Causey will implement their food delivery service in Holly Springs, North Carolina. The program was...
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has granted approval for Israeli drone manufacturer Flytrex and drone services firm Causey Aviation Unmanned to provide a drone-based food delivery service.
As part of the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program, Flytrex and Causey will implement their food delivery service in Holly Springs, North Carolina. The program was implemented in Holly Springs with the additional partnership with the N.C. Department of Transportation and the Town of Holly Springs. For now, the drone food delivery service will be limited to Holly Springs, but there could be potential for Flytrex and Causey Aviation to expand throughout North Carolina.
The service itself will consist of the drones, piloted by Causey Aviation pilots, following a single, fixed route from Kite Realty Group-owned Holly Springs Towne Center to Ting Park, the sports and recreation stadium in Holly Springs. The FAA-approved route was designed with consideration for residents of Holly Springs, mostly taking place over unpopulated areas, and purposefully avoiding adjacent neighborhoods, although it will cross one highway, Route 55.
“Regulation is crucial to the future of widespread drone delivery, both for safe operations and public acceptance, which is why we have been working diligently with the FAA to adhere to the highest standards of safety,” said Yariv Bash, CEO and Co-Founder of Flytrex, “We continually strive to reach new heights when it comes to advancing commercial drone use around the world. That is why we are thrilled to have been chosen to work so closely with the FAA to help this pilot take off. This is just the beginning as we expand the possibilities of sky-bound delivery.”
Why it’s important: Drone delivery expansion will be a service tied closely with urban air mobility, as the expansion will most likely involve the development of an Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management system. UAS Traffic Management Systems will be required for both drone delivery and UAM to expand into a large-scale service, making it mutually advantageous for both markets to take off. Flytrex makes for just one of the multiple third party companies competing to enter the US drone food delivery market, but with FAA approval to operate within Holly Springs, could see major success throughout North Carolina and the country if the service takes off.
Sources // Fox 8
Japan’s plans for flying cars by 2030 continues at Abiko, Japan, where the electronics firm NEC conducted two brief demonstrations for their developmental flying car. The demonstrations featured the flying car, unnamed as of now, steadily hovering over the ground for about a minute using its four propellers. Conducted inside of a giant cage, the flying car did not seem...
Japan’s plans for flying cars by 2030 continues at Abiko, Japan, where the electronics firm NEC conducted two brief demonstrations for their developmental flying car.
The demonstrations featured the flying car, unnamed as of now, steadily hovering over the ground for about a minute using its four propellers. Conducted inside of a giant cage, the flying car did not seem to run into any issues in its brief flight. NEC has not released any of their flying car’s detailed technical specifications as of today.
“Japan is a densely populated country and that means flying cars could greatly alleviate the burden on road traffic,” Kouji Okada, one of the project leads at NEC, “We are positioning ourselves as an enabler for air mobility, providing location data and building communications infrastructure for flying cars.”
Japan plans to feature flying cars heavily in their infrastructure within the next two decades, with plans to not only incorporate eVTOLs in their daily transportation, but inter-island transportation, emergency relief, and deliveries all as potential industries for eVTOLs to be involved in. However, Japan will need to resolve the issues that many other companies industry-wide are facing, such as battery life issues, and regulation compliance.
Why it’s important: Japan has heavily endorsed the idea of incorporating flying cars in daily life, going as far as to fund the construction of a huge test course in an area devastated by the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disasters in Fukushima. With such backing, Japan could possibly shoot to the forefront of the UAM industry moving past the developmental/test stage.
Sources // New Atlas
This week, new details emerged about Uber’s plan to potentially bring 3,000 jobs to the Dallas area by 2025 (2,500 by 2023). Dallas city council members approved an economic incentive package which includes $746,000 from a tax abatement over a five year period and up to $8.6M in economic grants. Uber’s $110M investment would make Dallas the company’s largest employment...
This week, new details emerged about Uber’s plan to potentially bring 3,000 jobs to the Dallas area by 2025 (2,500 by 2023). Dallas city council members approved an economic incentive package which includes $746,000 from a tax abatement over a five year period and up to $8.6M in economic grants. Uber’s $110M investment would make Dallas the company’s largest employment center outside of its headquarters in San Francisco and could signal a firm commitment to bringing urban air mobility to the city.
“Uber is evaluating adding a significant number of jobs in Dallas and investing directly in the community,” said company spokesman Travis Considine. “Our team is currently discussing the opportunity with state and local leaders, and we hope to make a decision by the fall.” Mayor Eric Johnson says the company’s move to Dallas would create several high paying jobs for the local economy.
The Dallas City Council just approved a competitive economic incentive package and @CityofDallas will hopefully soon be welcoming @Uber to our city. Uber's expansion in Dallas will bring thousands of high-paying jobs & a $110 million investment to our city. Excited for Dallas!
— Mayor Eric Johnson (@DallasMayor) August 14, 2019
Uber’s relationship with the city has been public knowledge for some time. It became a focus market for Uber at its 2017 Elevate conference with the goal of beginning demonstrator flights in 2020 and commercial operations in 2023. It has developed partnerships with Hillwood Properties to build vertiports around the city and with Bell Helicopter’s Nexus hybrid-electric air taxi, among others. More recently, the company has received multiple concept designs from architectural firms like Gensler’s CitySpace below. These flexible spaces provide cities with the infrastructure needed to support air taxi services while still offering modern retail/commercial space.
While Uber has not formally announced its plan to accept the package, Dallas’ low cost of real estate and living make the city an attractive option. Uber plans to make a decision by this fall.
Why it matters: All eyes will be on Dallas for the roll-out of large scale urban air mobility (UAM) markets in the United States. The sprawling metropolis is ripe for taking advantage of the value proposition UAM offers. Between its low cost of land, local investment in infrastructure, and local governments willingness to work with Uber, the city seems to be ripe for building out America’s first UAM city.
Selçuk Bayraktar, the technical director of Baykar Makina and son-in-law of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, just announced the development of Turkey’s first flying car. Baykar Makina is renowned in Turkey as a leading defense and technology company with expertise developing and manufacturing various unmanned aerial vehicles. Bayraktar posted a series of photos on Twitter showing the early stages of a research...
Selçuk Bayraktar, the technical director of Baykar Makina and son-in-law of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, just announced the development of Turkey’s first flying car.
Baykar Makina is renowned in Turkey as a leading defense and technology company with expertise developing and manufacturing various unmanned aerial vehicles. Bayraktar posted a series of photos on Twitter showing the early stages of a research and development process that would take years to develop the flying car, named CEZERİ.
The vehicle generates lift from four rotors, and resembles a large quadcopter fit to transport a human. Below the rotors is the passenger compartment with a single seat and a glass “cockpit”. Though, there are no signs of any controls which leads us to believe that the occupant of the CEZERİ vehicle will rely solely on autonomous flight. If sold to private customers, the occupant would likely enter a destination using an interface in the flight deck, and the vehicle would do the rest. More likely, Baykar Makina will develop a fleet of vehicles that could be operated for ride-hailing endeavors similar to Uber or Lyft.
Bayraktar is simultaneously crowdsourcing opinions on the livery of the CEZERİ by asking Twitter users to vote by liking the photo of their favorite paint scheme rendering. At first glance, this is a creative way to increase awareness of the development of the vehicle while creating a buzz for future announcements and updates on the prototype.
According to the Daily Sabah based in Istanbul, “the design team aims to complete the prototype in time for a debut at Turkey’s biggest aerospace and technology festival Teknofest, which begins on Sept. 17 at Istanbul Airport.” Look forward to updates on an assembled prototype next month, after which we hope to know more about the specifications and applications of the vehicle.
Why it’s important: Similar to the infancy of the automotive industry, there are beginning to be hundreds of manufacturers trying their hand in producing an operational flying car. It will be years, or even decades, before the industry narrows to a few large-scale companies mass-producing these vehicles; in the meantime, the quantity of innovators creating different solutions to the same problem will likely lead to a more optimized design for the future production of eVTOLs.
Sources // Daily Sabah; Twitter
Richard Browning and Gravity Industries’ Jet Suit just got a big upgrade. In a sneak peek promotional video posted to Instagram on August 10th, Richard is seen flying his newest jet pack, complete with a wing suit and airfoil attachment to augment the already impressive setup. The post was a teaser for his segment in a BBC TV Show Inside...
Richard Browning and Gravity Industries’ Jet Suit just got a big upgrade. In a sneak peek promotional video posted to Instagram on August 10th, Richard is seen flying his newest jet pack, complete with a wing suit and airfoil attachment to augment the already impressive setup. The post was a teaser for his segment in a BBC TV Show Inside Out, airing September 2nd in partnership with X Blade Drone Racing Group. The flight took place in the Isle of White, near Southampton.
The man behind the jet pack, Richard Browning, has been an engineer and inventor for his entire life, and is the founder of Gravity Industries. Gravity builds “1000 horsepower jet suits” and is arguably one of the world’s most popular jet pack manufacturers. Gravity Industries was founded in March of 2017, and has grown in popularity tremendously in the last two years. Gravity Industries was not able to comment on further details of the reveal but stated that “we were testing the capabilities of the Jet Suit and trying something that has never been attempted before” for the show.
While not readily apparent, many of the technological advances baked into Gravity’s jet suit may also apply to the UAM industry – namely the propulsion system. While battery technology is not mature enough to be the sole provider of propulsion for many urban aircraft, smaller gas turbines, or normally aspirated piston engines – combined with battery packs – may be the hybridized propulsion system that bridges the gap between the energy storing technology of today and that of the next 20 years, when batteries are advanced enough to be the sole propulsor for many air taxis and small commercial transport aircraft.
Why it’s important: Gravity Industries is pushing the boundaries of human jet pack flight. Less than a month after Franky Zapata flew across the English Channel on his jetpack, Gravity is showcasing the upgraded capabilities of the gas turbine powered jetpack that Richard Browning has been refining over the past years. Advances in controlled and accelerated forward flight for jetpacks aren’t directly applicable to UAM, but the novel propulsion configurations and control laws that will aid in safe flight from one location to the next could likely be applied to UAM technologies that involved novel power plant configuration aircraft for which conventional stability and control principles won’t suffice.
Summary The reasons electric aircraft make a lot of sense. The electric aircraft sector – the number of electric aircraft in development increased by roughly 50% over the past year to 170. Roland Berger: “All indications suggest that we may be on the cusp of a revolution in the aerospace and aviation industries.” Companies that are leading the electric plane...
- The reasons electric aircraft make a lot of sense.
- The electric aircraft sector – the number of electric aircraft in development increased by roughly 50% over the past year to 170.
- Roland Berger: “All indications suggest that we may be on the cusp of a revolution in the aerospace and aviation industries.”
- Companies that are leading the electric plane race.
This article used with permission and written by Matt Bohlsen
The era of electric aircraft is just starting now. Initially, we can expect to see very small electric aircraft flying short range trips. Next, we can expect the larger aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing (BA), Airbus (OTCPK:EADSF) (OTCPK:EADSY), and others to use hybrid aircraft. Beyond that, anything is possible, especially if technology continues to advance.
Two main types of electric aircraft being developed nowadays:
- Electric planes (smaller conventional style).
- Electric vertical take-off & landing (eVTOL) vehicles.
Note: Most are pure electric; however, larger planes (>10-20 seats) usually need to be hybrid, as electric is not yet powerful enough.
An electric vertical take-off & landing (eVTOL) vehicle
The reasons electric aircraft make a lot of sense
- Massive fuel savings. Given airlines typically spend 25-50% of their costs on fuel, switching to electric aircraft (where possible) is a no-brainer.
- Cheaper maintenance costs.
- Better for the environment as no carbon dioxide emissions.
- Governments may support – e.g.: Norway said it is committing to all-electric domestic flights by 2040.
Back in March 2015, I correctly picked the start of the Chinese electric car boom, as you can see in my article “Chinese Electric Vehicle Companies About To Boom.” My reasons were based on China’s 3 key needs – to reduce pollution, to reduce oil, and to build a globally competitive car manufacturing industry in China.
Fast forward to now (2019) and we are approaching a similar time for electric aircraft. My view is that, in the 2020s, we will start to see commercial electric vehicles for short-range provincial trips (passenger loads ~10). The reasons are mostly economical, as 25-50% cost reductions (minimal fuel bill) will mean small provincial flights will start to go electric. Assuming battery technology and aircraft design continue to improve, we should see this gradually improve in the 2020s to a point where hybrid planes and just maybe long-range electric planes become more common.
For shorter helicopter-style trips or where there is no airport for landing (helipads will do), the electric vertical take-off & landing (eVTOL) vehicle will also begin to take market share from competitors.
The benefits of electric aircraft
Due to technical limitations for now, there are still limitations on electric planes. For example, they are yet not able to carry huge passenger fleets due to lower power to weight ratios than conventional planes.
Technological breakthroughs will be needed for electric aircraft to completely replace conventional jet-fueled internal combustion engine [ICE] aircraft. This will mean higher battery energy density and lighter or better-designed planes. In the meantime, we will see small short-range all-electric aircraft and hybrid aircraft (electric and ICE).
A Look At The Electric Aircraft Sector
As reported by Statista:
According to German consulting firm Roland Berger: “All indications suggest that we may be on the cusp of a revolution in the aerospace and aviation industries.
As reported by CNN:
According to the consultancy Roland Berger, the number of electric aircraft in development increased by roughly 50% over the past year to 170. The number could swell to 200 by the end of 2019. There are two big factors driving increased investment: The global aviation industry produces up to 3% of all carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, a share that’s projected to increase sharply in coming years; and it spends roughly $180 billion a year on jet fuel. “Increased efficiency has been the name of the game when selling aircraft for decades,” said Nikhil Sachdeva, a senior consultant at Roland Berger. “Electric is the next phase.”
Companies That Are Leading The Electric Plane Race
Airbus E-Fan X is being developed with Rolls-Royce (OTCPK:RYCEF) and Siemens (OTCPK:SIEGY) as a hybrid-electric airline demonstrator. The E-Fan is a prototype two-seater electric aircraft. It has two electric motors and has a flight duration of 60 minutes.
The E-Fan X hybrid-electric technology demonstrator is anticipated to fly in 2020 following a comprehensive ground test campaign, provisionally on a BAe 146 flying testbed, with one of the aircraft’s four gas turbine engines replaced by a two-megawatt electric motor. Provisions will be made to replace a second gas turbine with an electric motor once system maturity has been proven.
Airbus E-Fan hybrid-electric plane
Airbus also has an advanced prototype electric vertical take-off & landing (eVTOL) vehicle. It has 8 electric motors, can carry up to 4 passengers, and is currently in the testing stage.
Self piloted flying vehicle can operate at three times the speed of the average road vehicle and extend commuters geographical reach by tenfold.”
An airbus electric vertical take-off & landing (eVTOL) – 440kWh Li-ion battery
Ampaire is currently developing a retrofitted electric aircraft with the aim to be FAA certified by the end of 2021.
Ampaire has LOI’s from regional airlines around the globe. And we’ve partnered with Mokulele Airlines in Hawaii to fly our retrofitted planes on their routes – the world’s first operational demonstration of electrified aircraft by a commercial operator.
On June 18, 2019, Aviation Pros reported:
Personal Airline Exchange [PAX] orders 50 Ampaire Electric Aircraft for on-demand…..with options for 50 additional electrified planes. PAX also intends to immediately acquire two upgraded aircraft from Ampaire to kickstart initial operations prior to hybrid conversion. For its commercial customers, Ampaire is targeting certifying its Electric EEL product in 2021. Ampaire’s hybrid aircraft will help PAX service thousands of airports of all sizes with industry-leading operating costs.
An Ampaire hybrid electric passenger plane
Boeing’s NeXt program focuses on urban mobility. Boeing has teamed up with Uber Air’s flying taxi service to develop a VTOL vehicle to begin ferrying passengers planned for 2023. You can view a video of their Passenger Air Vehicle [PAV] vehicle here.
Boeing’s Passenger Air Vehicle [PAV] – VTOL
Dufour Aerospace (private)
Dufour Aerospace is a Swiss company developing the aEro 2, an advanced electric VTOL aircraft that brings you from your doorstep to nearly anywhere you want over 5 times faster than a car but at the same cost per kilometer.
The company plans to be in the testing phase in 2020 for their aEro 2 electric VTOL.
aEro2 – All electric VTOL vehicle
Embraer [BR: EMBR3 ] (ERJ)
Embraer’s Embraer X unit is focused on disruptive technology such as VTOLs. Embraer recently unveiled their eVTOL aircraft concept. You can view a video here.
Embraer’s concept eVTOL
Eviation Aircraft (OTCPK:EVTNF)
The Israeli startup Eviation Aircraft took the aviation world by storm recently at the Paris Air Show. Eviation received a “double-digit” number of orders for their $4 million electric plane called Alice. CNBC reported US regional airline Cape Air as their first customer forecasting first delivery in 2022.
The aircraft can fly 650 miles (1,046 km) at around 500 miles per hour (805 km/h) with three electric motors on the tail and one on each wingtip. The prototype carries a 900 kWh lithium-ion battery. The plane carries nine passengers.
Alice: A fully electric 9 seater plane, 900kWh battery, 650-mile range
Harbour Air/MagniX (private)
Harbour Air recently announced they will run an all-electric aircraft fleet. MagniX is focused on providing advanced all-electric propulsion system for commercial aviation & defense.
Harbour Air will be the first seafaring airline to convert its complete fleet of de Havilland Beaver, Otter, Twin Otter aircraft and lone Cessna Caravan to electricity. These 41 vintage aircraft will be converted to reach a longer lifecycle with highly improved efficiency and lowered maintenance costs, a win-win for all…..Harbour Air will have to work closely with MagniX, the company that developed the 750 hp electric motor and battery pack that will give the aircraft enough electricity and power for about an hour of flight.
Joby Aviation (private)
Joby Aviation is a California-based start up focusing on developing a flying electric taxi vehicle. The Company has spent the last decade developing its own electric motors and their eVTOL vehicle. Then, in February 2018, the Company announced a $100 million in venture funding from investors including Intel Capital, Toyota AI Ventures, JetBlue Technology Ventures, and Capricorn Investment Group (who also backed Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA)). Their latest VTOL vehicle is being developed to fly as many as five people as far as 150 miles on a single electric charge.
Joby is also working on a conventional style electric plane project, “the Sceptor” with NASA.
The X-57 Maxwell electric plane (The Sceptor project)
Kitty Hawk (private)
Kitty Hawk was established by Google’s co-founder Larry Page. They have two key electric aircraft under development and testing – The Cora (2 passengers) and the Flyer (single pilot).
Kitty Hawk’s Cora is designed as an all-eVTOL taxi with about 100 kilometers of range.
On June 25, 2019, Kitty Hawk announced:
Boeing and Kitty Hawk form strategic partnership. The strategic partnership will bring together the innovation of Kitty Hawk’s Cora division with Boeing’s scale and aerospace expertise.
Cora electric ETOL – 2 passengers, 100 km range
Germany’s Lilium aviation’s jet vertical take-off and landing (VTOL), zero-emission electric aircraft has completed its first flight in Germany. With remote controls from the ground, the unmanned two-seater faced a series of tests, including a mid-air transition from hovering to horizontal flight. The Company aims for its first manned flight in 2019 and a five-seater air taxi service planned by 2025.
Lilium’s five-seater all-electric plane
Pipistrel is an established light aircraft manufacturer with over 1300 Pipistrel aircraft flying in 90 countries. Pipistrel already makes two small electric planes – The Alpha Electro and the Taurus Electro.
Pioneer of high technology in light aviation, unveiling revolutionary concepts such as electric flight and pursuing extreme aeroefficiency.
Tesla has no current plans for an electric plane; however, Elon Musk has been looking at the idea for some years and, of course, also founded the Space X rocket company.
Electrek reported in July 2019:
Tesla Electric Airplane? Elon Musk sees electric aircraft in 5 years. Quoting a Musk tweet when asked about electric planes: “Yes, but still a bit too limited on range. That will change in coming years as battery energy density improves.” When he revealed that he had a design for an electric VTOL aircraft, Musk estimated that Li-Ion batteries would need to achieve a 400 Wh/kg energy density in order for batteries to beat kerosene and his electric aircraft to be viable. Today, battery cells with high cycles are achieving about 300 Wh/kg of energy density.
Wright Electric (private)
Wright Electric is a startup aiming to create a commercial airliner that runs on batteries and for distances of less than 300 miles. easyJet (OTCPK:EJTTF) announced it was developing with Wright Electric an electric 180-seater aircraft by 2027. To date, the Company has built a two-seat proof of concept electric plane. They also advocate using swappable battery packs with advanced cell chemistry.
Wright Electric is also making preparations to perform a first flight of a nine-seat electric aircraft in 2019.
The Company states:
Wright Electric’s goal is for every short flight to be zero-emissions within 20 years. Our first plane is an airliner designed for flights like New York-Boston, London-Paris, and Seoul-Jeju.
Zunum Aero (private)
Zunum Aero is an aircraft manufacturer startup based in Kirkland, Washington that is backed by Boeing HorizonX and JetBlue Technology. The company’s concept is to make short haul flights affordable, easy and simple.
Zunum Aero states:
Imagine leaving your doorstep in San Jose at 7 AM and making it to a 9:30 AM meeting in Pasadena. With Zunum Aero, simply drive to a nearby airfield and walk to your aircraft with bags in tow, for a trip that will take half the time and at a much lower fare. Or skip the meeting altogether, and be on the slopes in Tahoe by 8:40 AM for $100 round-trip, and back home the same evening.
Zunum’s hybrid electric plane
Other names in the electric aircraft space include: Bye Aerospace (US), DeLorean Aerospace (US), Electric Aircraft Corporation (US), Evektor (Czech Republic), PC Aero (Germany), Schempp-Hirth (Germany), Siemens (Germany), Volta-Volaré (US), and Yuneec International (China).
- Electric aviation is a new industry requiring large start-up costs.
- The usual start-up risks – funding, technology change, cash burn.
- Many companies are private and not accessible to investors.
- Management risk.
- The usual stock market risks – dilution, sentiment, volatility.
Investors should remain mindful that electric plane development is expensive and challenges remain, particularly for longer flights and larger planes. The sector is largely made up of a mix of private startups and the established manufacturing giants (Boeing, Airbus, Embraer). Clearly, only the best and well-funded startups will survive.
On the other side, any manufacturer that can make a compelling electric plane with good range at a reasonable cost stands to do very well. Many promising private companies are making good progress towards commercialization of their aircraft. The very recent news of Eviation receiving commercial double-digit orders for a 2022 delivery just highlights how fast the electric aviation sector is now moving.
Guangzhou is the first city in China Selected for the Program (Guangzhou, China, August 6, 2019) – EHang announced today that it has selected Guangzhou as its first urban air mobility (UAM) pilot city globally for the establishment of a low-altitude aviation transportation network that shuttles passengers and goods in a safe, fast, environmentally friendly, cost-efficient and intelligent way. As part...
Guangzhou is the first city in China Selected for the Program
(Guangzhou, China, August 6, 2019) – EHang announced today that it has selected Guangzhou as its first urban air mobility (UAM) pilot city globally for the establishment of a low-altitude aviation transportation network that shuttles passengers and goods in a safe, fast, environmentally friendly, cost-efficient and intelligent way. As part of the pilot program, EHang will help the Guangzhou government set up a command-and-control center to ensure that multiple AAVs flying simultaneously in the city can remain in the air in a safe and efficient manner and can swiftly respond to emergencies. EHang also intends to help the city build up the basic infrastructure to support urban air mobility, including by designing safety rules and market entry thresholds. On the passenger front, EHang plans to use the pilot program in Guangzhou to test more flight routes and vertiports based on practical application scenarios before moving into commercial operations.
Next, EHang plans to work with more partners to expand the operations to cover more areas in Guangzhou and transport a wider variety of high-value low-weight goods, including blood and organs for emergency medical use. Hu Huazhi, EHang’s founder, chairman and CEO, said: “We are very excited about exploring the various meaningful ways in which AAVs can solve some of the stressors our congested cities face. We are in conversations with other cities, not just in China, to develop safe, efficient and affordable autonomous air transportation.” EHang, one of the world’s leading UAM platform operators, has already conducted commercial operations in air cargo transportation over the past two years in and near its home base in Guangzhou, working with leading express delivery company DHL-Sinotrans and retail company Yonghui.
The Guangzhou launch builds on EHang’s successful achievement of several milestones in the UAM space since its ground-breaking passenger-grade AAV was introduced at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to much fanfare. In January 2019, EHang was picked by the Civil Aviation Administration of China as the country’s first and only pilot company for passenger AAV development. Its AAV took its first global public pre-programmed flights carrying a total of 17 passengers in successive flights in Vienna in April. To date, EHang has safely conducted over two thousand flight tests both inside and outside of China to ensure that AVVs operate safely, even in harsh weather conditions.
Mr. Hu said: “Safety has been the top priority for EHang from day one.”
Guangzhou’s Vice Mayor Chen Zhiying said: “Guangzhou is one of the four transportation hubs in the Greater Bay Area. The city has always been very accommodating to innovation, which provides EHang with the perfect ecosystem to build out a smart UAM market.” Congestion has become a top issue for many of the world’s biggest cities, including Guangzhou, but based on demand for modes of transportation that are faster than ground transportation and cheaper than helicopters, EHang is developing solutions for the last-mile problem.
For example, in the DHL-Sinotrans partnership, EHang’s Falcon UAV reduces the delivery time for an eight-kilometer trip from 40 minutes to eight minutes, leading to significant cost savings.
Why it’s important: EHang’s move to select Guangzhou as the first UAM pilot city in its pilot program represents a substantial commitment for the UAM company to commit resources to a specific locale and to further develop and scale a full-fledged UAM operation. UAM competitors such as BLADE, Voom, and Uber will most likely keep a close eye on EHang’s progress in Guangzhou and consider applying the lessons learned from this operation to their own offerings.
Source // EHang Press Release