One year after revealing their innovative design for the first fully hydrogen powered VTOL aircraft, Alaka’i Technologies has come out with some revisions into their development of the Skai. The Skai gained much acclaim with the announcement that it would use liquid hydrogen as opposed to electric or conventional. An initial design was proposed by Alaka’i back in June 2019, and in short, the Skai was planned to feature a range of 400 miles (644 km) and a flight time of 4 hours using a simple 6 rotor multicopter design. According to CTO Brian Morrison, this simplicity in design was the key advantage of the Skai’s design: less complexity in design would mean both less maintenance and quicker certification.
A year in, Alaka’i has slightly shifted their milestones for the Skai. The original Skai design revealed last year has progressed to the tethered flight stage, and currently Alaka’i is working on a refined prototype design based off of the first one. So far, all testing has been done with an automated piloting system. Manned flight is expected to be begun in early 2021, but according to Alaka’i CEO Steve Hanvey, it could take longer: “Right now, we’re capable of flying it from the ground. In fact at this point I’m flying it about 50 feet away from the aircraft. Very quiet, very little air wash compared to a traditional helicopter. I’m flying it with my thumbs like you’d fly a drone. In the software, it’s capable of taking off and hovering by itself, but we prefer to have physical control.”
As for Alaka’i’s certification process, the Skai is currently two years into the FAA’s certification process, which is expected to take five years. Additionally, Alaka’i has an experimental ticket application ready once the Skai is able to fly off tethers and with a pilot. The process will take time before its finished, but Hanvey remains confident. “I’ve been certifying aircraft since 1980,” he says. “Military programs, helicopters, fixed wings, small and large, Our whole team brings experience from the aerospace business around what it takes to get an aircraft successfully certified, and what does it take to support it.”
The initial design for the Skai was ambitious, but still not impossible. “I think some of the statements made previously were perhaps overly ambitious, made in the excitement of the moment,” says Skai’s Chief Marketing and Sales Officer Bruce Gunter, “But that’s what happens when you’re pushing the envelope in that respect. We’re working hard to get there.”
Why it’s important: The Skai’s main draw comes from the innovative usage of liquid hydrogen, a choice that allows the Skai to both outpace competitors in terms of speed, range, and maintenance. With a much higher energy density than lithium batteries, liquid hydrogen offers genuine long-range flight capabilities, as well as fast refuelling. Used in a fuel cell electric powertrain, its only local emissions are water, and there are a growing number of ways to produce it in a completely green and sustainable fashion, some of which are beginning to become cost-competitive with jet fuel, giving the Skai high potential to become one of the driving forces of the aerial mobility industry.
Source // New Atlas