Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, Ltd. (COMAC)
Pudong, Shanghai, China
Founded in May 2008, the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, Ltd. (COMAC) is a Chinese state-owned aerospace manufacturer established headquartered in Shanghai, China. According to one source online, the company has a registered capital of RMB 19 billion ($2.7 billion USD as of May 2008). The corporation designs and manufacturers three different large jetliners, named the ARJ21 Xiangfeng, C919 and the CR929. The largest jetliner the company proposes to make is currently called the C939.
On January 9, 2021, COMAC Beijing Aircraft Technology Research Center held a ceremony revealing their full-scale hybrid-electric VTOL demonstrator named the ET480. The ET480 demonstrator has been jointly developed by COMAC North Research Center, United Nations Household Appliances Investment and the Hydrogen Energy Company.
The company has stated this aircraft has been designed specifically for Urban Air Mobility (UAM) and more specifically, for on-demand air taxi service. While not many specifications have been released to the public, the aircraft is powered by fuel cells and lithium-ion batteries and will possibly use 5G-based intelligence for autonomous piloting.
The hybrid-electric VTOL and electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) project was started in 2019 and the company has made quick progress by making at least three prototypes by January 2021. The first prototype is the ET120 half-scale demonstrator which has been reported to have already made 30 flights as of January 2021. COMAC unveiled its Tian Gong eVTOL sub-scale cargo drone model on Dec. 22, 2020. Like most companies making hybrid-electric VTOL and eVTOL aircraft, many start designing and developing prototypes in secrecy. When the company announced the ET480 full scale demonstrator, that is when the public learned the name of the half-scale demonstrator, the ET120.
While few specifications about the ET480 demonstrator have been made public, we know the demonstrator will be used to verify all technologies for the aircraft from flight surfaces, to testing its avionics and testing the ability of all its systems to work in conjunction during VTOL and forward flight. The aircraft will use fuel cells for its hybrid-electric power train, it will have autonomous piloting, it has been made for on-demand air tax service, it has one main high wing, a T-tail, uses eight propellers placed on the end of two booms for VTOL flight, uses a pusher propeller for forward flight and has four fixed landing legs. The pusher propeller has been placed at the end of the tail, again, showing the advantage of using electric motors in aircraft. You can put an electric motor on almost any place on an aircraft due to its compact size and low weight, allowing new aircraft to be designed more efficiently and increasing its flight control, like never before.
The company has stated they will be making a one, four and 19 seat version for their hybrid-electric VTOL aircraft and so the ET480 could possibly be the demonstrator for their four seat version. As of January 2021, the company has not estimated the time table for manufacturing production aircraft.
- Aircraft type: Hybrid-electric VTOL
- Piloting: Autonomous
- Capacity: Unknown (possibly 4 passengers)
- Cruise speed: Unknown
- Range: Unknown
- Propellers: 9 propellers (8 VTOL propellers and 1 pusher propeller for forward flight)
- Electric Motors: 9
- Power source: Fuel cells and lithium-ion batteries
- Fuselage: Carbon fiber composite
- Windows: Panoramic windows with a wrap around window design allowing forward, left, right and top visibility, for spectacular views (for the production model)
- Wings: 1 high main wing
- Landing gear: 4 fixed landing legs
- Safety Features: Distributed Electric Propulsion (DEP), provides safety through redundancy for its passengers and/or cargo. DEP means having multiple propellers and motors on the aircraft so if one or more motors or propellers fail, the other working motors and propellers can safely land the aircraft.