Austin, Texas-based LIFT Aircraft started their project in Oct. 2017 in Budapest, revealed itself on Dec. 11, 2018 to the public through social media and news articles, and made its first public appearance at the SXSW (South By Southwest) 2019 Conference and Festivals held in March in Austin, Texas, USA. The LIFT HEXA (originally the "Hexa") is an all-electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) single-passenger wingless multicopter ultralight aimed primarily at tourism and short distance travel. The HEXA aircraft was designed by Robert Kovacs, who is based in Hungary.
LIFT was founded by Matt Chasen, a serial entrepreneur, investor and adventure sports enthusiast. While getting his MBA at the University of Texas at Austin in 2003, Chasen founded uShip — the first and largest online marketplace for shipping which today has over $200 M in annual gross sales.
The HEXA is a one passenger eVTOL multicopter amphibious modular aircraft capable of landing on both land and water. The aircraft has 18 independently controlled propellers and 18 electric motors mounted on a motor strut assembly resembling a web of six inward-pointing sectors with twelve outer and six inner electrically-powered propellers. This allows the aircraft to be controlled by varying the individual motor speed for each propeller and allows the pilot to have excellent visibility. The aircraft is powered by multiple battery packs.
A ⅕ sub-scale prototype first flew by remote control in January 2018 in Hungry. The company completed its first uncrewed flight on a full-scale HEXA on a grassy field in July 2018 in Lago Vista, Texas, USA. The first crewed flight of the full-scale HEXA took place in October 2018 and again, in Lago Vista, Texas.
The aircraft has a front windscreen and the sides of the cockpit are without doors. The aircraft has a cruise speed of 45 mph (72 km/h), a maximum cruise speed of 63 mph (55 knots) and has a maximum flying time of 15 minutes (plus reserve). The HEXA is semi-autonomous piloting and its stability is accomplished by flight control computers. After training in LIFT’s virtual reality simulators, the passenger can use the single three-axis joystick or can engage an autopilot mode using a small touchscreen. If the pilot lets go of the joystick, the aircraft will automatically go into a hover.
The triply-redundant flight computer system continuously calculates the energy required to return to home so — regardless of the pilot’s actions — the HEXA will automatically return and land while the battery still has a sufficient return charge. It can also automatically land in designated safe areas or be controlled remotely by LIFT-trained safety pilots. The vehicle can fly with up to six motors disabled but is also equipped with an autonomous ballistic parachute. The aircraft has three redundant flight computers, three redundant sensors and has sensors for collision avoidance.
LIFT Aircraft's Timeline:
November 2017: LIFT Aircraft is founded
December 2017: HEXA is designed
January 2018: ⅕ prototype flies in Hungary
July 2018: First uncrewed flight of full-scale prototype in Lago Vista, Texas, USA
October 2018: First crewed flight of full-scale prototype in Lago Vista, Texas, USA
December 2018: HEXA is unveiled to the public in Austin, Texas, USA
December 2019: Production of HEXA begins
March 2020: LIFT Aircraft wins U.S. Air Force Research & Development contract for an air ambulance (USA)
April 2020: LIFT Aircraft selected for U.S. Air Force Agility Prime Initiative (USA)
August 2020: LIFT Aircraft receives $2.5 million (USD) U.S. Air Force flight test contract (USA)
October 2020: First production airframe shipped
December 2020: LIFT Aircraft wins U.S. Air Force Research & Development contract for autonomous cargo retrieval (USA)
March 2021: U.S. Air Force proves HEXA can be transported by a Lockheed C-130 Hercules turboprop military transport airplane in Springfield, Ohio, USA
July 2021: LIFT Aircraft receives Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval for first vertiport in Austin, Texas, USA
January 2022: LIFT Aircraft employee training flights begin in Austin, Texas, USA
April 2022: LIFT Aircraft advances to Phase 3 of the U.S. Air Force's contract in Austin, Texas, USA
Each motor has an underslung battery, which the company says makes for quick changeouts between flights and puts the risk of fire away from the passenger and under the propeller airflow. Having the batteries next to the electric motors also saves extra cabling weight. The HEXA’s all-carbon fiber airframe is supported by four perimeter floats and a large central float under the open cockpit that allow it to make soft landings on water and the ground. The aircraft also has cushioning for unexpected hard landings.
The HEXA qualifies as a powered ultralight under FAA regulations, so it requires no pilot’s license to fly. To be considered an ultralight, an aircraft must have a maximum empty weight of 254 lb (115 kg), but an additional 30 lb (13.7 kg) is allowed for each float, and more weight is allowed for the 28 lb (12.7 kg) parachute system. It can carry a 250 lb (113 kg) passenger for up to 15 minutes while retaining 25% battery life. HEXA has a total empty weight of 432 lb (196 kg).
LIFT plans to set up numerous locations where anyone will be able to rent the aircraft in “the world’s first experiential entertainment business based on an entirely new type of personal, electric aircraft.” The cost will be about $250 per flight. The company currently relies on input by interested customers to determine its first locations in scenic, uncongested areas near major cities, tourist destinations and entertainment hubs.
The first test flight was on May 25, 2018. The first manned test flight was November 1, 2018 (Matt Chasen pilot). In an update in their Dec. 11, 2019 e-newsletter, LIFT said they were starting the production of their aircraft and it will have a lighter airframe, quieter electric motors, redesigned landing gear for greater stability, and have a fourth flight computer. The company is also planning a 25 city tour in the USA.
In a May 20, 2022 eVTOL Magazine article, the company restated they designed the eVTOL multicopter HEXA as an ultralight aircraft (Under Federal Aviation Administration FAR Part 103 regulations) and LIFT Aircraft intends to market the aircraft for recreational and sporting use. This is due to the complex certification requirements for eVTOL aircraft by the FAA and the company would like to start selling their aircraft as soon as possible without a massive paperwork delay from the FAA. LIFT is planning on building vertiports in open unpopulated areas to adhere to Part 103 requirements and in addition, the company noted that Part 103 does not allow ultralight aircraft to fly over congested areas.
Until recently, the industry has been led to believe that companies developing fixed-wing eVTOL aircraft would have a clear path to certification through the agency’s Part 23 rules. That changed about 18 months ago when the FAA informed industry that there was a problem with that approach.
“The agency determined that it didn’t have the legal authority to certificate VTOL-capable pilots for Part 23 aircraft,” Mike Hirschberg, executive director of the Vertical Flight Society, told eVTOL.com.
To fix this oversight, the FAA decided to reclassify winged eVTOLs as powered-lift aircraft under its “special class” process in 14 Code of Federal Regulations 21.17(b), rather than as small fixed-wing aircraft under 14 CFR Part 23 rules.
It’s a decision Hirschberg said the “industry had significant issues with.” He said 21.17(b) was designed to certify powered-lift and other novel aircraft by combining airworthiness certification standards from Part 23 with Part 27 or 29.
This is the same certification approach the FAA took with the Leonardo AW609 [an all-turbine powered tilt-rotor civilian aircraft], which has experienced significant delays, Hirschberg said, mainly due to the FAA’s antiquated knowledge in rotorcraft technology.
LIFT Aircraft started to build their first aircraft for serial production in December 2019, according to their website. For 2022 and beyond, the company's next goals include parachute deployment, envelope expansion, acoustic testing analysis, environmental testing, water landing, vertiport construction, pilot training and possibly more.
In the future, the company also intends to market their eVTOL multicopter aircraft to first responders, ems use, fire fighting, search and rescue, cargo transportation, the military and more.
Piloting: The passenger can manually fly the aircraft, use voice commands or it can be flown by remote control
Capacity: 1 person
Cruise speed: 45 mph (72 km/h)
Maximum cruise speed: 63 mph (55 knots)
Maximum flying time: 15 minutes
Empty weight: 432 lb (196 kg)
Payload weight: 250 lb (113 kg)
Propellers: 18 propellers
Electric Motors: 18 electric motors
Power source: Batteries
Fuselage: Carbon fiber composite
Windows: Front wind screen with open sides
Landing gear: The aircraft is amphibious and is capable of landing on both land and water. There are 4 perimeter floats for buoyancy and stability. The 5th center float is filled with energy-absorbing foam for added buoyancy and hard landing protection.
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. Has an autonomous ballistic parachute in case of a multiple rotor failure.
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