Commentary: VFS Expands Support to eVTOL
By Mike Hirschberg, VFS Executive Director
Vertiflite, July/August 2019
Electric/hybrid-electric propulsion enables new vertical flight aircraft configurations that have tremendous potential — but also significant challenges — to bring a radical transformation of air transportation for unmanned package delivery, unmanned logistics, personal air travel, air taxis, urban air mobility (UAM), regional air mobility (RAM) and many other missions.
The Vertical Flight Society was the first major organization in the world — other than the pioneering companies themselves — to recognize and embrace the potential of electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. We began covering electric vertical flight aircraft in Vertiflite in 2012 and held the world’s first workshop on electric/hybrid-electric “Transformative Vertical Flight” aircraft in 2014. We started our eVTOL newsletter in 2016 and our dedicated website, www.eVTOL.news, in early 2017 when there were only about a dozen known eVTOL designs in development.
The eVTOL website now includes over 200 news articles and more than 175 aircraft are profiled in our World eVTOL Aircraft Directory. Today, nearly every aerospace organization, drone developer and automotive company is looking at the market possibilities engendered by electric propulsion for vertical flight.
The number of conferences around the world highlighting eVTOL, electric aviation and UAM continues to grow. In addition to our own eVTOL Newsletter, the two top international helicopter magazines launched eVTOL newsletters in June.
But VFS doesn’t just report on news and host conferences. As the global non-profit organization working to advance vertical flight, we have a key role in educating the world about the transformative potential of eVTOL aircraft. Our reason for existing is to support our current and future members, so they can be as successful as possible.
Accordingly, we are doubling down on our support to eVTOL with additional personnel, eVTOL workshops and partnerships, and educational resources.
VFS corporate membership has grown by more than 10% a year for the past four years in a row to nearly 120 members, with more than 70 known to be working on eVTOL. As we grow, we are growing our support.
In January, Rex Alexander, President of Five-Alpha LLC, began consulting for the Society as the VFS Advisor for VTOL Infrastructure. Rex has more than 35 years of experience as a civil, military and air ambulance helicopter pilot/mechanic and VTOL infrastructure advisor.
In May, VFS hired Jim Sherman as the Society’s Director of Strategic Development (see Vertiflite, July/August 2019, pg. 68), responsible for setting and executing the Society’s strategy for promoting membership development and growth. Jim in particular is responsible for supporting eVTOL and expanding the Society’s membership and services in this fast-growing market segment.
At Forum 75, VFS officially recognized a provisional Electric VTOL Technical Committee, led by University of Maryland’s Prof. Anubhav Datta and Joby Aviation’s Dr. Maryam Khoshlahjeh as the deputy TC Chair. The diverse membership of this committee includes representatives from leading VTOL/eVTOL developers, leading VTOL universities, NASA, the US Defense Department, consultants, etc. This provisional TC succeeds the eVTOL Integrating Technical Team (ITT) that was originally set up in 2015. The committee will support the efforts of the Society, including in the call for papers for Forum 76 in Montreal.
New Workshops and Partnerships
When we launched our Transformative Vertical Flight Workshops, we wanted to tackle the critical barriers. The late Mike Dudley at NASA was a key organizer of the workshops, hosting the second one in 2015 at NASA Ames, and facilitated our Transformative Vertical Flight Working Groups (see www.vtol.org/TVF). Dudley challenged these working groups to develop an advocacy roadmap around eVTOL mission sets, and the groups continue working today.
We are now focusing on the next set of barriers that are holding back this “Electric VTOL Revolution”: VFS will be offering its first dedicated Workshop on eVTOL Defining Challenges, Sept. 10–12, in Washington, DC (www.vtol.org/dc). Covering infrastructure, system safety and airspace management, this will be the first in a new series of workshops on the defining challenges of electric VTOL developments.
We are now also partnering with the highly respected Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency (CAFE) Foundation to support its 13th annual Electric Aircraft Symposium (EAS), to be held at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, July 20–21, just prior to the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture Oshkosh.
Founded in the 1970s, CAFE Foundation has been leading electric aircraft developments — originally focused on electric conventional takeoff and landing (eCTOL) applications — and hosting its annual Electric Aircraft Symposium since 2007. Our two organizations are now collaborating to expand our education opportunities and better support the growth of electric aviation. (See www.CAFE.foundation for details.)
Leading eVTOL Resources
VFS was founded by the helicopter industry’s pioneers more than 75 years ago to spearhead industry-wide technical collaboration and accelerate the advancement of vertical flight aircraft. Today, VFS plays a similar role in advancing today’s revolutionary VTOL aircraft and helping to develop new business models for their use.
We have a vast archive containing 75 years’ worth of technical papers and articles on the science and engineering of vertical flight, much of which is applicable to electric and hybrid-electric VTOL. Our Vertical Flight Library (formerly called the “AHS Online Store”) has more than 12,000 downloadable files. The Library (at www.vtol.org/library) is the world’s largest collection of VTOL documents and a huge warehouse of knowledge.
As a part of our mission as an educational organization, VFS held the world’s first eVTOL technical short course in 2018 and now has five separate online VTOL courses — subjects including aeromechanics and acoustic modeling — available as video-on-demand classes (totaling 30 hours), plus more than 100 hours of complimentary online videos of eVTOL/UAM lectures and workshops by world leading experts. The Society’s Vertical Flight Video Library has links to all of these offerings at www.vtol.org/videos.
In addition to our six previous eVTOL Symposiums (most of which were video recorded), the Society has had a full day of eVTOL/UAM presentations at the Annual Forum each of the past three years. At this year’s 75th Annual Forum, eVTOL (and Future Vertical Lift) was a significant topic of conversation (see “Forum 75 — The Revolutions Get Real,” Vertiflite, July/August 2019, pg. 28). From leading rotorcraft executives to researchers in industry, academia and government, electric VTOL permeates much of what the vertical flight community is talking about these days.
Of course, as the world’s leading VTOL society, we can provide the venues, forums, infrastructure and leadership, but we need your help, too. We have to be proactive to reach out to members of the new-tech VTOL community who aren’t aware of VFS and our resources. We need your help to spread the word.
As you have conversations with your colleagues or new entrants to vertical flight — whether new rotorcraft suppliers or entrepreneurs new to aviation — encourage them to join VFS and get involved. We also have a robust social media presence; repost our news and let others know they can benefit from participation with VFS. Our members are our key recruiters — help us “crowdsource” our membership messaging!
The 75+ year history of the Society has repeatedly shown that the industry has achieved its greatest successes when a combination of entrepreneurship and industry collaboration has overcome the technical challenges of the past.
With your help, your Society will continue to be a catalyst for change.