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Electric CTOL/STOL News, Jul/Aug 2024
  • 07 Jul 2024 09:38 PM
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Electric CTOL/STOL News, Jul/Aug 2024

Here’s our roundup of recent news on battery-electric, hybrid-electric and hydrogen-electric conventional takeoff and landing (eCTOL) and electric short takeoff and landing (eSTOL) aircraft for advanced air mobility (AAM) applications. (Note: All photos are courtesy of the respective companies unless otherwise stated.)

Surf Air Pushes Certification Goal to 2027

Surf Air CEO Stan Little said, during an earnings call on March 28, that the regional mobility company would add one year to its timeline and set 2027 as its target date to develop and certify electric powertrains to modify its fleet of Cessna Grand Caravan turboprop airplanes. The timeline change, Little said during the call, is “due to the timing of availability for the optimal components for our powertrain. “We’re in the final stages of vendor selection for key components, including battery and electric motor suppliers,” Little said during the call. “Our exclusive relationship with Textron is a real competitive advantage as it enables us to work more closely with Garmin and other key vendors on these critical components. Alongside the supplier selection work, our design of the powertrain’s integration to the aircraft is progressing well.” In a subsequent earnings call on May 18, Little announced he would step down as CEO and that Surf chief financial officer Deanna White would become interim CEO.

Eviation Updates Production Aircraft Design

Eviation, on April 25, announced that it had completed the conceptual design review of its electric Alice airplane and made changes intended to ease the eventual certification, production and routine maintenance of the aircraft. The Alice design completed with contractor TLG Aerospace, Eviation stated, includes “a constant cross section that reduces Alice’s part count and manufacturing costs, while also enabling future variants of the aircraft.” The nine-passenger Alice aircraft would be designed for both commuter and cargo flights, said Eviation, which is based in Arlington, Washington.

Updates made by Eviation and TLG during the design process were based on data gathered from the company’s first and only Alice test flight on Sept. 27, 2022 (see “Electric CTOL/ STOL News,” Vertiflite, Nov/Dec 2022). Wind tunnel testing at University of Washington’s Kirsten Wind Tunnel in Seattle and feedback from Eviation’s customer advisory board also enabled the revised design. Eviation CEO Andre Stein told Aviation International News that design changes for the new design (shown) include “bigger wings and bigger control surfaces, and we have increased the maximum takeoff weight to allow for more batteries,” which have been moved to the centeraft of the fuselage to enable easier battery maintenance and replacement.

Electra Nets US Army and Navy Contracts

Electra.aero in April secured contracts from the US Army and Navy for the company based in Manassas, Virginia, to test the potential of its hybrid eSTOL aircraft (shown). The Army — through a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract worth $1.9M — will fund wind tunnel tests of the Electra aircraft, which features a blown-wing design to both improve lift and minimize the runway distance needed for takeoffs. The contract from Naval Air Systems Command tasks Electra to produce a study on the capabilities of the eSTOL aircraft for ship-based flights. Electra test flew its two-passenger EL-2 Goldfinch demonstrator for the first time in November (see “Electric CTOL/STOL News,” Vertiflite, Jan/Feb 2024). During the latest test flights in April and May, the Goldfinch took off in less than 170 ft (52 m) and landed with less than 114 ft (35 m) of ground roll. Electra aims to certify a nine-passenger aircraft with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2028.

Heart Aerospace Plans US Research Hub, Redesigns ES-30

Electric aircraft developer Heart Aerospace plans to open a new research and development hub in Los Angeles to complement its headquarters in Sweden. A new chief technology officer has already been appointed to hire engineers and staff in Los Angeles (see “Leadership Moves,” Vertiflite, July/Aug 2024). On May 15, Heart also unveiled design changes for its ES-30 aircraft (shown) with the removal of both a truss-brace wing and a large battery compartment in the rear fuselage, previously added to improve flight range from the startup’s initial ES-19 design. “We are working on a solution we call independent hybrid propulsion, and we aim to demonstrate electric flight during next year,” Heart Aerospace co-founder and CEO Anders Forslund stated. The developer hopes to secure type certification of its ES-30 with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) by 2028.

EASA Approves Aura Test Flight

Aura Aero gained an “Approval for Flight Conditions for Permit to Fly” from EASA, clearing the way for the maiden test for its Integral-E electric two-passenger airplane. The French developer in May 2023 unveiled its design vision to eventually certify a 19-seat Electric Regional Aircraft (see “Electric CTOL/ STOL News,” Vertiflite, July/Aug 2023). In addition, Airbus announced on May 28 that its Airbus Protect regulatory compliance segment would partner with Aura towards gaining that certification.

Harbour Air Orders magniX Electric Engines 

Seaplane operator Harbour Air announced the signing of a Letter of Intent (LOI) with magniX, a global leader in electric aviation propulsion, to purchase 50 magni650 electric powertrains to electrify Harbour’s fleet of De Havilland Canada-built DHC-2 Beaver turboprop aircraft, modifying them into eBeaver airplanes. Harbour Air will also use the magniX engines for third-party conversions, including a deal announced on May 22 to electrify three DHC-2 aircraft for Bel-Air Aviation. Harbour aims to certify its converted eBeaver seaplane with the FAA by 2026.

VoltAero Starts Engine Certification

VoltAero has begun certification testing of the hybrid-electric powertrain that will be used on its five-seat Cassio 330 aircraft. The French developer aims to begin flight tests in early 2025, Aviation Week reports. VoltAero designed the Cassio 330 around a Safran electric powertrain and a Kawasaki fourcylinder piston engine. The developer eventually aims to add a larger, six-cylinder Kawasaki engine to the aircraft, VoltAero’s CEO and Chief Technology Officer Jean Botti told Aviation Week. “It will also give us enough power to go beyond the five seats in our launch product to six seats or possibly more,” Botti said of the larger Kawasaki engine. “And very importantly, that engine is also developed to be hydrogen compatible, so in the future we could potentially develop a hydrogen-electric aircraft.”

ZeroAvia Partners with Airbus on Hydrogen

Airbus will partner with ZeroAvia to study the feasibility of hydrogen infrastructure at the three largest airports in Canada, including operations, supply and refueling needs. ZeroAvia announced on April 24 that its new facility in Everett, Washington, would enable it to produce hydrogen-electric propulsion components for itself and to market to other aspiring airframers. ZeroAvia is also seeking an additional site to build a facility to boost its research and development of hydrogen fuel cells. Selling hydrogen fuel cell components could provide additional revenue as ZeroAvia works toward certifying its ZA600 hydrogen-electric powertrain for a 10–20-seat aircraft and planning eventual revenue flights with that technology.

Volar Partners with UAE and Indonesia

Volar Air Mobility announced plans to study green aviation operations in both the United Arab Emirates and the Republic of Indonesia, with the Hong Kong-based company using the four-passenger RX4E eSTOL aircraft (shown) being developed by Rhyxeon General Aircraft Co., Ltd. (RGAC), which is affiliated with Liaoning General Aviation Academy. The RX4E is a followon to the two-seat Liaoning RX1E light sport aircraft (LSA), which became the world’s first all-electric aircraft type certified by any government authority, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), in 2015. Liaoning first flew the RX4E eSTOL in 2021 and is working with the CAAC to certify it. Abu Dhabi-based Inovartic Investment on April 19 announced the agreement with Volar to “explore collaboration in distribution, after-sales services and local manufacturing of the electric aircraft” in the Emirates. In addition, Indonesia’s Bandung Institute of Technology announced on May 1 that it would partner with Volar on green aviation research, including a “curriculum to train engineers in electric aircraft maintenance, repair, and operation.”

 

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