Last Wednesday, Alaka’i Technologies unveiled the first ever hydrogen fuel cell eVTOL. Designed in collaboration with BMW Designworks, the aircraft is soon to enter flight testing.
The Skai eVTOL focuses on simplicity. According to Alaka’i, keeping the design simple speeds up both certification and production, and raises safety standards. The Alaka’i team has goals of 1,000lbs payload, a 400 mile range and 118mph top speed.
The Skai boasts an impressive interior and exterior design with a full panoramic roof and sides. The team at Designworks focused heavily on what the aircraft would feel like to use to the user, although in early years the Skai will be geared towards cargo, emergency services, and search and rescue. Of course, the eventual goal is to provide an air taxi service for urban cities. The mock-up of the Skai seen below can accommodate four passengers, plus a pilot.
While essentially all other air taxi companies are based on lithium-ion battery power, Alaka’i chose hydrogen fuel cell propulsion in order to meet the speed, range, and payload requirements of the founders. Each pound of compressed hydrogen contains over 200 times the amount of energy that could be stored in a 1-pound lithium ion battery. This kind of weight reduction is essential for flight performance. Additionally, unlike battery powered aircraft, the Skai can be refueled with liquid hydrogen in around 10 minutes, and liquid hydrogen fuel can be more mobile on the ground than electric chargers. While there currently exists more infrastructure for electric charging, which is why many short-range urban aircraft have chosen it, hydrogen represents a cheaper and even greener method of propulsion.
Alaka’i has already built both the full scale mock-up seen here and a functional full-scale prototype that’s nearly ready for flight tests. Although by law the prototype will need a human pilot, the Skai is capable of completely autonomous flight.
The biggest questions remaining for Skai are certification and infrastructure. Because the design is so simple, with fewer parts and new technologies needing approval, members of the Skai team hope to see certification for many of the aircrafts components within a year. Regarding infrastructure, CEO Steve Hanvey said, “We’re looking at small (sized) electrolysis capability to generate liquid hydrogen at locations that don’t have the infrastructure as the first step…kind of like the early filling stations.” Essentially these kinds of small-sized ‘filling stations’ would allow liquid hydrogen fuel to be produced at any location.
“We’re looking right now, today, at mass production, so that it’s easier to transition from low-rate to high-rate production.” -Steve Hanvey, Alaka’i Technologies CEO
Skai is led by a team of highly experienced experts formerly from NASA, Raytheon, Beech, Cirrus, Dayjet, and the Department of Defense. You can learn more about Skai on it’s website or on the TransportUP Skai Aircraft Page.
Why it’s important: The unveiling of the Skai eVTOL by Alaka’i technologies brings a new level of competition to the urban aviation industry by bringing hydrogen fuel cell propulsion to the table. The fuel cell technology utilized by Skai will produce higher range, payload, and speed statistics for the industry to match. Ultimately, Alaka’i Technologies has made a new form of eVTOL transportation with an extremely high potential for the future.
Sources // Alaka’i Technologies