- 08 Sep 2022 12:37 AM
eVTOL Leaders Continue Momentum
By Dan Gettinger, Managing Editor
Vertiflite, Sept/Oct 2022
The biennial Farnborough International Airshow, held in England on July 18–22, provided a few of the leading electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) developers a high-profile stage for a flurry of announcements. In the days preceding Farnborough and during the airshow itself, eVTOL developers revealed a host of new deals and partnerships designed to propel their advanced air mobility (AAM) ambitions to new heights. Elsewhere, eVTOL developers also marked significant achievements, making the summer of 2022 a very busy one in the world of electric vertical flight. This is a summary of recent news announcements.
In a series of interviews in June, Archer Aviation CEO Adam Goldstein offered his thoughts on how the company intends to begin commercial operations with its eVTOL aircraft. Speaking with Auto Futures on June 14, Goldstein said that the company’s goal is to eventually operate the aircraft themselves, perhaps in markets such as Los Angeles and Miami. Archer is aiming to launch an initial network of around five vertiports in or around 2024–2025 to prove eVTOL operations and demand, Goldstein said in a June 24 interview with New Atlas.
In a press release on June 28, Archer said that its flight test regime is on track to achieve full transition flights with its Maker demonstrator eVTOL by the end of the year. Work in recent months has focused on analyzing the Maker’s Tilt Propeller System (TPS) during low-altitude hover test flights. On July 14, Archer released a 40-second video of the Maker conducting one such hover flight at the company’s facility in California. The aircraft has been conducting flights as often as once a day. Archer’s engineers expect to expand the flight envelope in future tests, beginning with pedal turns and more ambitious climbs and descents.
Archer announced on July 18 that it has partnered with FACC to build elements of the fuselage and wing of the company’s production eVTOL aircraft. The Austria-based FACC — owned by the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China, Ltd. (AVIC) — specializes in constructing aerospace systems and will provide its expertise in lightweight aerostructures (FACC is also working with EHang to manufacture and certificate the EH216 eVTOL in Europe). In a July 6 interview with eVTOL.com, Geoff Bower, chief engineer at Archer, said that Archer was approaching its preliminary design review of the production aircraft and expects a critical design review in early 2023.
The company also revealed on July 27 that Honeywell Aerospace will provide the flight control actuation and thermal management technologies for its production aircraft. Honeywell’s aircraft controls and actuators will enable Archer’s eVTOL aircraft to conduct precise maneuvers in dense urban environments, Archer said in a press release. Honeywell announced in May that it will supply Lilium with the avionics for the Lilium Jet; it has also previously announced partnerships with Volocopter, Jaunt Air Mobility and other leading eVTOL companies.
Archer has completed all its “critical azimuth” flight tests, the company announced on July 28. The tests, which served to evaluate the crosswind capabilities of Archer’s eVTOL aircraft, represent the second of three phases in flight testing and follow Archer’s completion of hover flight tests in December. Archer will now proceed to test the performance of the aircraft at increasing forward speeds.
Archer announced on Aug. 10 that it has received a $10M predelivery payment from United Airlines for 100 of Archer’s production eVTOL aircraft. The move follows a similar financial commitment by American Airlines for aircraft from Vertical Aerospace. United had placed a conditional order for eVTOL aircraft in February 2021 and has since strengthened its ties with Archer. This April, the two companies formed a joint eVTOL advisory committee.
Also on Aug. 10, Archer revealed that its production eVTOL aircraft will be called Midnight. In a letter to shareholders, Archer said that the aircraft will be able to carry 1,000 lb (450 kg) of payload and fly up to 100 miles (160 km), more than had previously been expected. The Midnight is also expected to have a charging turnaround time of 10 minutes.
Shortly after making a 705-mile (1,135-km) cross-country flight with its Alia eVTOL in May (see “Beta Flies Cross Country,” Vertiflite, July/Aug 2022), the Beta Technologies Alia-250 made a few high-profile visits on its return to Vermont. On June 23, the Alia-250 conducted a test flight between two Amazon air cargo facilities at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and Wilmington Air Park in Ohio, the first such flight by an eVTOL aircraft. Then, in a tweet on June 28, United Parcel Service (UPS) revealed that the Alia had visited the UPS WorldPort hub in Louisville, Kentucky. Amazon is a financial backer of Beta, while UPS has pledged to purchase at least 10 — and as many as 150 — eVTOL aircraft from the Vermont-based developer.
The second Alia-250 has begun VTOL flight tests with the four lifting propellers installed. Photographer Kevin Burkholder spotted it conducting startup tests on July 13 at Beta’s headquarters at Burlington International Airport without the forward fairings installed (see photo, used with permission).
On July 18, the Burlington City Council opened the way for Beta to expand its operations at the airport by approving a 75- year lease for the company. Beta intends to build a 344,000-ft² (32,000-m²) manufacturing structure at the airport, as well as other facilities.
The following day, in a 1.6-hour flight on July 19, a US Army pilot became the first Army aviator to fly an electric aircraft, the Army DEVCOM Aviation and Missile Center announced in a tweet. Using the Air Force’s AFWERX Agility Prime program, the Army awarded Beta a contract in late January to support Beta’s flight testing of the Alia.
Bristow announced on Aug. 9 that it has placed a firm order for five Beta Alia-250 aircraft, with an option for an additional 50 aircraft. The five examples bring Beta’s total number of firm orders to 130 aircraft, around 30% of the company’s total, according to SMG Consulting. Bristow intends to use the Alia-250 aircraft to rapidly move passengers and cargo and develop “new regional mobility networks in the US and other strategic locations,” said Dave Stepanek, Bristow’s Executive Vice President. Beta is the latest eVTOL developer endorsed by Bristow, which has placed orders with six other companies.
On June 27, EHang announced that it has secured an order for five EH216 eVTOL aircraft from the Tianxingjian Cultural Tourism Investment and Development, with an option for an additional 25 aircraft. The order will facilitate the development of tourism flights in the city of Jishou, Hunan province.
Then, on June 28, EHang announced that it has partnered with the Guangzhou Branch of the Agricultural Bank of China (ABC). Under the terms of the agreement, the ABC will provide EHang, which is based in Guangzhou, with a range of banking services. Huazhi Hu, Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of EHang, noted that, “The RMB 1 billion [$148M credit line] indicative facilities for cooperation will further diversify our funding channels and facilitate our financial flexibility and liquidity to support the continuous execution of our strategic plans and drive our growth momentum in the long run.”
In July, EHang successfully completed several demonstration flights of its EH216 eVTOL aircraft in Japan. An uncrewed EH216 conducted point-to-point and over-the-sea flights in four cities in Japan — Amagasaki, Fukuyama, Oita and Sakaide (shown) — EHang said in a July 22 press release. The flights are intended to prepare for the 2025 World Expo in Osaka, which is expected to feature eVTOL aircraft.
Eve Air Mobility
Eve, which was spun off from Embraer earlier this year, presented an updated design for its eVTOL aircraft on July 17 at the Farnborough Airshow. The new design replaces the canard configuration with a more conventional wing and tail and features eight rotors affixed around the wing. Eve also revealed, for the first time, a full-scale mockup of the cabin of its eVTOL aircraft at the airshow (see photos in the VFS Photo Gallery at www.vtol.org/gallery). “This mock-up brilliantly materializes the cabin concept we have been co-creating with potential users for years,” Flavia Ciaccia, Vice President of User Experience of Eve, said in a statement. The cabin design reflects feedback from Eve’s first advisory board meeting, held in Lisbon on June 14–15.
Halo Aviation, a UK-based travel services provider, will work with Eve on its Urban Air Traffic Management (UATM) software solution. In a press release on July 18, Eve said that Halo will acquire its UATM software and develop it for Eve’s future air mobility needs. Halo, a unit of Directional Aviation, which operates a large fleet of business jets and helicopters, had placed a conditional pre-order for 200 Eve eVTOL aircraft in June 2021 (see “Turning Point,” Vertiflite, July/Aug 2021).
Eve announced on July 19 that it has signed a non-binding letter of intent with Embraer and BAE Systems to continue to explore potential military applications for eVTOL aircraft (shown). The three companies will consider forming a joint venture to develop a military variant of the Eve eVTOL. Eve, Embraer and BAE first announced a partnership on military eVTOL aircraft in December 2021.
Joby announced on July 17 that it is seeking approval from the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for its eVTOL aircraft. If granted, the approval would validate the Type Certificate awarded by the US Federal Aviation Administration. Doing so, Joby explained in a press release, would serve to reinforce the bilateral efforts by the FAA and CAA to jointly develop regulations for eVTOL aircraft. “By working hand-in-hand on certification, the UK and the US are setting the stage for these two countries to be amongst the earliest adopters of this important new technology,” JoeBen Bevirt, founder and CEO of Joby, said in a statement. Since the UK has left the European Union, the CAA has been working with individual companies on whether they will leverage the FAA or European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification approaches.
The American Helicopter Museum and Education Center announced on Aug. 9 that it will award Joby founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt with its prestigious Achievement Award, which acknowledges a person or organization for making a significant impact to furthering vertical flight during the past year. It will be presented at the museum’s annual gala fundraiser on Oct. 8.
Joby is expanding its partnership with the US Department of Defense, the company said on Aug. 10. Joby has secured an expansion of its pre-existing contract with the Air Force’s Agility Prime program, bringing the total potential value of the contract to $75M. The company is also adding to its collaboration with the US Marine Corps to explore the use of eVTOL aircraft for various military applications. The Agility Prime program has been an important source of support for Joby, which received its military airworthiness approval in December 2020.
Lilium, the Munich, Germany-based eVTOL developer, revealed a suite of new partners in its push to develop its seven-seat Lilium Jet aircraft. The company announced on June 14 that it has selected France’s Expliseat to design and build the seats for the Lilium Jet using an ultralight frame. On June 29, Lilium engaged Astronics Corporation, a New York-based electronics firm, to develop the Lilium Jet’s power distribution system, namely the secondary power distribution units and the charging power distribution units. Lilium also confirmed on July 11 that it is working with L3Harris to supply flight data recorders for its eVTOL aircraft.
Bristow, the Houston, Texas-based civil helicopter operator, has partnered with Lilium on electric air mobility, Lilium announced on July 17. The agreement includes options to buy up to 50 eVTOL Lilium Jets and outlines a collaboration to establish a maintenance program to support future Lilium Jet operations. Bristow has previously placed conditional orders for electric AAM aircraft from Eve, Overair, Vertical Aerospace and Electra.
Lilium announced partnerships with several companies developing AAM networks in Europe. ASP Group said on July 18 that it intends to purchase an initial six Lilium Jet aircraft and work with Lilium to develop a network of landing sites in the Benelux region, which includes Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. On July 19, AAP Aviation and Lilium announced plans to develop an electric VTOL network in Scandinavia facilitated by a potential purchase by AAP of up to 50 Lilium Jets. On July 20, Helity Copter Airlines said it intended to buy up to six Lilium Jets to establish business and charter eVTOL flights in southern Spain’s Andalusia region.
Lilium has selected Diehl Aviation to design and build the interior of the Lilium Jet. The agreement covers the fabrication of “all side walls in the passenger cabin, the ceiling panels, partitions, the luggage compartment, and the cabin floor,” as well as the cabin lining of the cockpit and a lighting system, according to Lilium’s July 21 press release. In addition to Lilium, Diehl Aviation has previously partnered with Volocopter and Airbus on various aspects of eVTOL manufacturing. At Farnborough, Lilium displayed a model of a four-passenger cabin layout with “club seating” (shown).
Overair announced on June 14 that it has secured $145M in additional funding from Hanwha Systems and Hanwha Aerospace, two subsidiaries of South Korea’s Hanwha Group. Hanwha, which first invested in Overair in 2019, will also provide electric motors and battery packs to Overair’s research and development effort, as well as expertise in commercializing the Butterfly, Overair’s six-seat eVTOL aircraft. In a press release, the Santa Ana, California-based eVTOL developer said that the investment has enabled the company to remain on track to fly the Butterfly in the second half of 2023.
Overair has selected the Washington-based Toray Composite Materials to provide Toray’s advanced prepreg system, a type of aerospace grade epoxy resin material, for the Buttery eVTOL, Toray announced on July 7. Toray has previously collaborated with Joby and has specialized in thermoplastic composites for eVTOL aircraft (see “Stamping Out Air Taxis,” Vertiflite, May/June 2021). “Our unique propulsion system requires materials that provide a unique combination of high stiffness and high strength, while also maintaining the optimal weight targets for the vehicle,” Ben Tigner, co-founder and CEO of Overair, said in a statement.
Supernal, a division of Hyundai Motor Group, revealed a full-scale mockup of the cabin concept for its eVTOL aircraft at Farnborough.
In a July 18 press release, Supernal said that it worked with Hyundai’s Korea-based automotive design team on the concept. Supernal, which has its headquarters in Washington, DC, expects its eVTOL to be ready for intra-city passenger flights by 2028.
Also at Farnborough, Supernal announced that it has partnered with Electric Power Systems (EP Systems) to accelerate the development and production of “safe, lighter-weight and certifiable” eVTOL batteries, Supernal said in a July 20 press release. EP Systems previously partnered with Bell on the design of its Nexus eVTOL aircraft.
On July 6, Vertical Aerospace announced that it has selected Molicel to provide high-performance battery cells for the VX4, its five-seat eVTOL aircraft. The two companies will also establish a working group to ensure that the batteries meet safety and certification requirements. Molicel intends to open a second factory in Taiwan to manufacture the cells in 2023, enabling the company to mass produce cells for Vertical in advance of the VX4’s expected 2025 service entry date.
Vertical Aerospace announced on July 15 that it has secured a pre-delivery payment for 50 VX4 eVTOL aircraft from American Airlines, a key backer of the UK-based eVTOL developer. The news comes roughly one year after American made a $25M investment in Vertical and placed a conditional order of up to 250 VX4s with an option of an additional 100 aircraft. “We are delighted to have reached this major milestone with American Airlines on our eVTOL partnership,” Stephen Fitzpatrick, founder and CEO of Vertical, said in a statement. Also on July 15, Vertical announced that FlyingGroup, a European business jet operator based in Antwerp, had placed a conditional preorder of up to 50 VX4 aircraft.
On July 18, Vertical and Babcock International, the London-based aerospace and defense engineering firm, announced a partnership to explore new applications for eVTOL aircraft. The two companies will establish a joint working group to explore the possibility of using eVTOL aircraft for aerial emergency services and cargo transportation, potentially in the context of military operations. Vertical and Babcock will also collaborate on developing modular maintenance capabilities for use in remote and challenging environments.
Vertical is among the founding members of the Advanced Mobility Ecosystem Consortium, a UK government-backed organization tasked with accelerating the implementation of AAM in the UK. In a press release on July 18, Vertical said that the UK government had awarded the consortium GBP 9.5M ($11.5M) to develop the technology and infrastructure to support AAM operations, initially by conducting a series of flight demonstrations between airports in London and South West England using Vertical’s eVTOL aircraft. The Advanced Mobility Ecosystem Consortium comprises Atkins, Vertical Aerospace, Skyports, Virgin Atlantic, Heathrow Airport, London City Airport, Bristol Airport, NATS, Cranfield University, The University of Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG), Connected Places Catapult, with support from Eve Air Mobility.
GKN Aerospace has completed the installation of the electrical wiring interconnection system (EWIS) for the VX4’s airframe, Vertical announced in a July 20 press release. The EWIS runs power between the batteries and the electrical power units. Vertical and GKN announced their partnership in September 2021 and will now proceed to work on the aircraft’s wing. Then, on July 25, Vertical announced it had partnered with Hanwha Aerospace on the fabrication of electromechanical actuators for the VX4. The work includes actuators for “tilt and pitch control for the four forward propellers,” as well as for those on the wing and V-tail, according to a Vertical press release.
Vertical announced its first half-year results for 2022 on Aug. 8. In a letter to shareholders, the company announced that it established an equity subscription line with Nomura in August, allowing Vertical to issue up to $100M in new ordinary shares. The letter also included a photo of the VX4 prototype. Fitzpatrick stated that Vertical had “reached a critical engineering milestone by completing the build of our full-scale VX4 prototype, and we have now begun putting it through its paces for an intensive, multi-month flight test programme.”
On July 12, Volocopter launched an exhibition in Singapore, marking the first time the German eVTOL developer has displayed its commercial VoloCity eVTOL aircraft in Asia. The exhibition, a collaboration with Singapore’s Institute of Technical Education, is Volocopter’s first long-term public showcase of its technology. The photo shows Gan Kim Yong, Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry, seated in the VoloCity, with Christian Bauer, Volocopter’s Chief Commercial Officer.
Volocopter had conducted a crewed test flight of its 2X eVTOL demonstrator across Manila Bay in 2019 and Singapore is among Volocopter’s launch cities for commercial operations.
Wisk Aero displayed its eVTOL aircraft at two public exhibitions in July. The Mountain View, California-based eVTOL developer brought its fifth-generation Cora eVTOL to the Farnborough International Airshow in mid-July (see more photos in the VFS Photo Gallery at www.vtol.org/gallery) and a second aircraft in Brisbane, Australia, later in the month. In an interview with Aviation International News at Farnborough, Wisk CEO Gary Gysin said that the company has conducted more than 1,600 flight tests with Cora.
Wisk announced on Aug. 9 that it is launching an engineering hub in Montreal, Canada. In a press release, Wisk said that the hub will contribute to the development of its sixth-generation aircraft, which it intends to reveal later this year. The hub is expected to grow to around 30 employees by the end of the year and is part of Wisk’s global expansion strategy. In June, Wisk announced plans to add Australia-based personnel to its Asia Pacific region team in addition to those it has in New Zealand.
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