Ascendance Prepares to Take Off
By Jim Sherman
This year’s Paris Air Show (June 17-23, 2019) was packed with announcements — an entire industry boasting a more eco-friendly future for aviation worldwide.
Chief among those is the burgeoning Urban Air Mobility (UAM) market and the eVTOL platforms to serve it that are destined to fly within the next decade.
France-based startup, Ascendance Flight Technologies, founded almost 2 years ago by four former members of the E-Fan team within Airbus has been working for a while now on a fresh take on the way to tackle UAM. They plan to fly a hybrid VTOL aircraft destined towards urban air travel as well as the suburban and short inter-city markets by 2024. We have been following them for a while now and they have shown more detail of their aircraft in development and announced key partnerships during this major event in the aviation industry.
After building and having ran a full flight test campaign of their 1:6 subscale prototype, Ascendance is now developing the full scale prototype of their aircraft, Atea. Atea is a hybrid lift and cruise aircraft using three lift units for vertical flight and a nose propeller for cruise. Capable of carrying up to four people (one pilot + three passengers), this aircraft is expected to fly 80 nm (150 km) plus flight reserves at 108 kts (200 km/h) using a hybrid propulsion system. The electric motors and battery are used during the take-off and landing phases while the thermal power is used during cruise for range and speed while charging the batteries in-flight to reduce turn-around time to a minimum (approx. 10 min).
Jim Sherman, VFS staff, spoke with Jean-Christophe Lambert, Ascendance Flight Technologies co-founder and CEO. Lambert emphasizes on three major aspects of this emerging industry that Ascendance focuses on: safety, societal impact and user experience.
Safety is paramount according to Jean-Christophe as it will be the threshold to overcome before even thinking about operations of such aircrafts. As such, the company has taken a rational approach and tackled safety both through early design choices such as a lift and cruise architecture but also in operations using dissimilar energy sources for redundancy leveraging their hybrid propulsion system. They have also started the regulatory processes to clear a path to certification by talking with all regulatory bodies, namely FAA and EASA.
Societal acceptance will be key for these technologies to thrive and scale. These aircraft need to blend into the existing urban landscape and this can be achieved through early design choices and precise engineering according to Lambert. This translates for example in the use of electric propulsion precisely during the take-off and landing phases where the aircraft’s acoustic footprint will be the most critical with regard to local population around network nodes. Moreover, the airframe has been designed and will be carefully engineered to shroud these vertical propellers in order to not only boost performance but most importantly reduce the acoustic impact around the aircraft. In order to ensure the best design, Lambert has set up with his team a wide partnership with the French ONERA (the most qualified aerodynamic and aeroacoustic experts in the country) which was announced during the Paris Air Show a few days ago.
The final key factor for the Ascendance team will be user experience. Because this new mobility will be a complementary service within a broader innovative urban mobility landscape, the user experience has to be flawless in order for passengers to transfer effortlessly into a multimodal system between services. This is the reason why Ascendance has partnered with Aeroport de Paris (ADP, Paris’s airports operator) to work on these issues head on as well as to refine the market figures using the group’s extensive traveler database.
In the end, according to Jean-Christophe Lambert, technology becomes an enabler for this new form of mobility that will revolutionize the way we think about moving around our cities worldwide. This will be the third revolution in the aviation industry through more electrification of our platforms to enable new experiences and new possibilities. Ascendance is ready for it, are you?