AAM for Business Aviation
By Nicolas Zart
Vertiflite, November/December 2021
VFS began covering electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) technology and developments in 2013, and held the world’s first public discussion of eVTOL at the Transformative Vertical Flight workshop in August 2014. With electric power as the enabler, eVTOL technology has energized the world’s perspective of a forthcoming Electric VTOL Revolution, as well as electric conventional takeoff & landing (eCTOL) and its close relative, electric short takeoff & landing (eSTOL) projects.
Now, eight years later, some $10B of funding has been invested in eVTOL — half of it this year alone — seemingly cementing the future of advanced air mobility (AAM). eVTOL/AAM has spread to the broader aviation community as more segments realize the promise and progress of eVTOL. The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (BACE) took place Oct. 12–14 in Las Vegas, Nevada, and AAM was a topic of some discussion.
Jaunt and AIRO Tie the Knot
In a promising sign of a maturing AAM industry, Jaunt Air Mobility held a press conference on Oct. 11, the day before BACE began, to announce that it was merging with the AIRO Group. AIRO’s portfolio of companies includes data systems, resupply package delivery, military aerospace training, military and commercial manned/ unmanned aircraft systems, and avionics technologies. The specific companies in the AIRO Group are AIRO Drone, Agile Defense, Aspen Avionics, Coastal Defense, Sky-Watch, VRCO, and now Jaunt Air Mobility. AIRO Group’s executive chairman, Dr. Chirinjeev Kathuria, also exploring funding opportunities for the group.
AIRO’s VRCO (“Vehicle Redesign Company”) subsidiary — which is developing its four-person XP4 “hyperluxury supercar of the skies” — complements Jaunt and its more pragmatic Journey electric-powered slowed rotor compound (see “Jaunt’s Journey,” Vertiflite, Sept/Oct 2021). The shared technologies and supply chain will also reduce investments and development timelines.
Martin Peryea, Jaunt CEO/CTO and Founder, explained how Jaunt attracted a top-notch aerospace industry stakeholder with a merger, less than three years after the company came out of stealth mode at the VFS Electric VTOL Symposium in January 2019. Jaunt is tackling the AAM ecosystem from suppliers to operations and architectural companies. Peryea said BAE Systems has found a battery cell available today that meets Jaunt’s operational goals. This unnamed battery exceeds expectations by threefold — shortening development, raising the operational lifespan of the battery packs, and improving maintenance and savings.
Jaunt’s planned aircraft applications range from military and police to medical, with a hybrid-electric variant for search and rescue or other missions that need longer range and endurance. Autonomy is the next step in its evolution. Lastly, Peryea said Jaunt meets Uber Elevate’s original price per mile estimates with high utilization.
AAM Begins to Embrace NBAA
After NBAA had to cancel last year’s event due to COVID-19, NBAA-BACE 2021 showed that it could be safely held. The exhibit floor had several eVTOL-related displays and the show included a panel on AAM that included speakers from Beta Technologies, Blade, Jaunt, Joby Aviation, Kitty Hawk, Overair, Robotic Skies and UP.Partners.
Honeywell Aerospace again highlighted its products and capabilities for the AAM segment, highlighting their new Anthem flight deck technology (see “Electric VTOL News”).
In addition to Jaunt’s announcement and display, their partners BAE Systems, Crane Aerospace & Electronics, and VerdeGo Aero also exhibited in their exhibit space. A number of Part 135 operators expressed interest in AAM and have been studying the opportunities and challenges of eVTOL.
Ben Tigner, CEO at Overair, Inc., explained the company’s Butterfly design and operations at their booth, which also featured a large model. Overair, a spinoff of Karem’s military research and development efforts, uses four large proprotors to enhance both efficiency and a low noise signature (see “VFS Webinars — A Community Engaged”).
Eve Urban Air Mobility (see “Vertical, Eve Add Orders for Hundreds of Aircraft,”) also had a booth. Eve is focusing on the AAM ecosystem, with parent Embraer focusing on the manufacturing of the lift-plus-cruise eVTOL aircraft.
Lastly, Kitty Hawk brought one of its single-seat Heaviside eVTOL aircraft. Despite previously having revealed that it was planning a two-seat version (see “Electric VTOL News,” Vertiflite July/Aug 2021), the company has now refocused on the one-seater, saying the aircraft’s configuration is not the most important pacing item; the autonomous technology testing is.
The eVTOL Revolution has never looked more promising and electric power is the enabler. Distributed electric propulsion (DEP) systems have opened the doors to creative designs, shrinking size, weight and cost, which have facilitated the development of AAM for commercial aviation. With strategic partnerships and mergers, years of hard work are paying off as traditional aircraft manufacturers, top suppliers and startups find common ground, realizing the vision of the first Transformative Vertical Flight workshop from so many years ago.
About the Author
Nicolas Zart has written on electric cars, autonomous cars, electric aircraft and other green mobility vehicles since 2007 for various outlets. A frequent contributor to Vertiflite, he has also written for CleanTechnica, Robb Report and Aviation International News. All photos on this page were taken by the author and can be used only if credited: "VFS photo by Nicolas Zart. CC-BY-SA 4.0"