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eVTOL Leaders Continue to Advance
  • 11 Mar 2024 08:45 PM
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eVTOL Leaders Continue to Advance

By Dan Gettinger, Managing Editor
Vertiflite, Mar/Apr 2024

Recent months have seen the leading developers of electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft make big strides in their efforts to develop their advanced air mobility (AAM) vehicles. Some, like Overair and Supernal, unveiled new full-scale designs. Eve and Vertical, meanwhile, found renewed sources of funding to support ongoing development and test efforts. The following represents a summary of recent activities by some of the leading developers of eVTOL aircraft. Additional updates are covered elsewhere in this issue.

Archer Aviation

Archer Aviation and Atlantic Aviation announced on Jan. 17 plans to partner on electric aircraft infrastructure. The collaboration is aimed at installing an interoperable rapid charging system at existing Atlantic Aviation assets in the Los Angeles and New York metropolitan areas, Northern California, and South Florida. Work is expected to begin at select locations in 2025, though Atlantic has separately already begun working with Beta to install electric chargers at other sites (see below). Atlantic Aviation is one of the largest fixed-base operators (FBOs) in the US and manages New York’s East 34th Street Heliport, among other sites. The charging infrastructure uses the automotive Combined Charging System (CCS) interconnects (see “Competing Standards,” Vertiflite, Jan/Feb 2024).

On Jan. 22, Archer Aviation and NASA announced a collaboration to study battery cell safety and systems. The project, part of what Archer describes as a broader partnership between the eVTOL developer and NASA, will focus on stress testing the battery systems that are expected to go into Archer’s Midnight production eVTOL aircraft. To this end, NASA and Archer will conduct tests at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), an advanced, high-speed x-ray facility. The collaboration is occurring via a NASA Space Act Agreement, a legal vehicle that allows NASA to work with domestic and international entities to advance its mandate.

San Jose, California-based Archer completed phase one of its flight test program, Archer announced on Jan. 31. The phase, which lasted about three months at Salinas Airport, covered “an array of progressively more complex flight maneuvers and data gathering missions,” the company said in a press release. The second phase of the flight test program will involve flying at greater speeds and achieving full wing-borne transition, while the third will see the company flying simulated commercial routes. Meanwhile, Archer has upgraded the battery packs on its Midnight demonstrator aircraft with some of the first highvoltage packs from its manufacturing line in San Jose, California.

Archer also is progressing in its efforts to build three conforming Midnight eVTOL aircraft, the company said on Feb. 7. The first of these three aircraft was expected to enter final assembly at Archer’s facility in San Jose within weeks of the announcement. This initial fleet of three aircraft are expected to begin piloted flight tests later this year, following which Archer will use the aircraft in “for credit” flight testing with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

On Feb. 8, Archer announced that it had received its Part 145 certificate from the FAA. The certificate permits Archer to perform maintenance and repair tasks on aircraft components. “This is a major vote of confidence from the FAA on Archer’s promise and potential for operating a full-scale urban air mobility service in cities across the country,” said Archer Founder and CEO Adam Goldstein in a statement.

Beta Technologies

A US Air Force unit and Beta Technologies worked together to develop emergency procedures for electric aircraft, the Air Force said on Dec. 13. Firefighters from the 96th Test Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, traveled to Beta’s headquarters in Burlington, Vermont. There, Beta engineers provided a briefing on the power system, batteries, shutdown procedures and accident responses. In October, a fixed-wing, electric conventional takeoff and landing (eCTOL) prototype of the Beta Alia aircraft arrived at Eglin, where it is helping the Air Force familiarize itself with electric aircraft.

Beta announced on Jan. 9 a collaboration with Atlantic Aviation to install an electric charging network on the US East and Gulf Coasts, adding to those already installed by Beta across the country. The two companies installed a charger at New York’s Elmira Regional Airport and intend to do the same at Alabama’s Birmingham International Airport, Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport in Mississippi and Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport in Massachusetts. Beta’s Charge Cubes are designed to be multimodal and interoperable; they provide 320 kW of continuous power.

On Jan. 29, Beta Technologies said it completed the first deployment of its Alia demonstrator with the US Department of Defense (DoD). In the months since the Alia arrived at Eglin Air Force Base on Oct. 26, the Beta team and the Alia aircraft were involved in developing operational procedures and participated in a simulated casualty evacuation mission with an electric aircraft, as well as a maintenance recovery team mission. Additionally, Air Force pilots participated in electric aircraft training at Beta’s MobileDome simulator. Beta also installed a CCS Level 3 DC fast-charger (350 kW), the first such charger at a DoD installation.

In February, Beta’s Alia CTOL aircraft began its multi-state journey back to the company’s headquarters in Vermont. The trip included a stop in Georgia, where the Alia participated in a US Air National Guard Agile Combat Employment (ACE) exercise. In Louisiana, Beta and helicopter operator Bristow Group conducted a demonstration flight of the Alia in Houma. On Feb. 14, the Beta Alia conducted the inaugural charge at an electric aircraft charger at Golden Triangle Regional Airport (GTR) in Mississippi, the first of its kind in the state. To install the charger, Beta partnered with the airport and with fixed-based operator Avflight.

Guangzhou EHang Intelligent Technology Co. Ltd.

EHang announced on Dec. 18 that it had partnered with Wings Logistics Hub to advance AAM in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Wings, a subsidiary of Technology Holding Company — itself the technology division of EIH Ethmar International Holding — intends to purchase up to 100 units of the EHang EH216, with initial deliveries expected to begin in the first quarter of 2024. Guangzhou, China-based EHang announced on Dec. 21 that it had secured an Airworthiness Certificate from the Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC) for its EH216-S eVTOL aircraft. The certificate confirms that the aircraft “complies with the approved type design and meets safety and quality requirements for commercial operations,” EHang said in a statement. The Airworthiness Certificate followed the CAAC’s issuance of the Type Certificate for production procedures in October 2023.

Also on Dec. 21, EHang said it had commenced deliveries of the EH216-S to commercial customers in China, the first such deliveries since EHang received its Airworthiness Certificate. EHang delivered the aircraft to Eton, a subsidiary of Guangzhou Development District Communications Investment Group, which intends to use the aircraft for aerial tourism in Guangzhou.

On Dec. 26, EHang inaugurated the UAM Operation Demonstration Center (UAM Center) in the Bao’an district of Shenzhen. Built by the Bao’an Transportation Group, the UAM Center hosts a variety of facilities, including an eVTOL vertiport, hangars, command-and-control center, passenger waiting area and service center, among other amenities.

On Dec. 28, EHang successfully completed what it called the world’s first commercial eVTOL flights. Passengers, who included government officials and citizens, were provided complimentary demonstration flights in the cities of Guangzhou and Hefei.

In early February, EHang revealed its recommended retail prices or its EH216-S passenger-carrying eVTOL aircraft. For customers inside China, EHang recommended a retail price of RMB 2.39M ($330,000), EHang said on Feb. 1. For those outside of China, EHang had a retail price of $410,000, the company said on Feb. 7. Both prices are effective April 1.

On Feb. 6, EHang announced that it had formed a strategic cooperation with Guangzhou Automobile Group (GAC Group), as well as with administrative agencies in the Guangzhou region. GAC Group, the fifth largest automobile manufacturer in China, will contribute its expertise in manufacturing and industrial supply chain issues to EHang’s production of its eVTOL aircraft, while EHang will support the development of GAC Group’s flying cars. Both companies will work with the administrative agencies in Guangzhou to develop policies to encourage cooperative efforts by government and businesses to advance AAM operations.

Eve Air Mobility

The National Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC), Brazil’s aviation authority, released the proposed airworthiness criteria for the Eve eVTOL aircraft, the company announced on Dec. 20. The criteria were available for public consultation until mid- February 2024. Once public comments are incorporated and the criteria are finalized, Eve and ANAC will work towards developing the means of compliance for the eVTOL aircraft. “The publication of the proposed airworthiness criteria is an important milestone towards the certification path of Eve´s eVTOL,” said Eve Chief Technology Officer Luiz Valentini in a statement. Eve is a subsidiary of Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer, headquartered in São José dos Campos, São Paulo.

On Dec. 21, Eve announced that the Bradesco Bank provided a 490 million Brazilian real (USD$99.5M) loan to the eVTOL developer. The loan, which was approved by Brazil’s National Development Bank (BNDES), is the first of its kind provided by the bank under the Green Loans Principles 2023, an environment, social and governance (ESG) approach to investing that focuses on sustainability. Eve intends to use the funds exclusively for the development of its eVTOL aircraft. The bank, having already provided around one-quarter of the total loan amount, intends to disburse the funds gradually.

On Jan. 29, Eve announced that Thales, Honeywell, Recaro Aircraft Seating and FACC had joined as suppliers for its eVTOL aircraft. Thales, which first partnered with Eve on a series of joint studies in January 2022, will supply an air data solution for the aircraft. Honeywell will supply Eve with a host of lighting, navigation and sensor products, including a GPS-aided altitude and reference systems. Recaro Aircraft Seating will design, certify and produce seats for the aircraft, marking the 51-yearold company’s first venture with an eVTOL aircraft developer. Finally, FACC will lead the development and production of the rudder, elevator and aileron in the aircraft’s horizontal and vertical tail.

Joby Aviation

Joby, ANA Holdings and Nomura Real Estate Development (NRE) announced they have partnered on Dec. 7 to develop eVTOL infrastructure in Japan. The three companies will focus on developing vertiports in major metropolitan areas like Tokyo, before expanding to other urban areas across the country. The announcement follows Joby’s appointment as technical advisor to the Tokyo Bay eSG Project, which is led by NRE and sponsored by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and aims to demonstrate multi-modal solutions. The agreement is the latest in the relationship between Joby and ANA, which first partnered in 2022.

On Dec. 20, Joby said it successfully completed a series of air traffic simulations with NASA’s Ames Research Center. The simulations sought to evaluate the integration of eVTOL aircraft at airports using existing air traffic control tools and procedures. Joby and NASA jointly developed the simulations, which saw dozens of eVTOL aircraft flying per hour. For the purposes of the simulation, the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) region was chosen to represent a busy airspace.

Santa Cruz, California-based, Joby Aviation announced on Jan. 8 that it had partnered with Clay Lacy Aviation to install an electric charger for eVTOL aircraft at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California. The installation of Joby’s Global Electric Aviation Charging System (GEACS) is part of Clay Lacy’s planned $100M redevelopment of its FBO terminal at the airport. According to Joby, the electric charger is the first of its kind for southern California and represents an important node for Joby’s plans for a nationwide network of electric charging infrastructure.

Joby Aviation announced on Jan. 23 that it had partnered with Helo Holdings Inc. (HHI) to install an eVTOL aircraft charger at the company’s heliport in Kearny, New Jersey. Under the partnership, which the two companies initiated in November 2023, HHI will upgrade the electric infrastructure at the Kearny heliport to permit Joby to install its Global Electric Aviation Charging System (GEACS). The Kearny heliport opened in 2011 and features 27 parking spots for helicopters, though HHI intends to expand it to 32 spots (see “Serving the Big Apple: The Kearny Heliport,” Vertiflite, July/Aug 2021).

On Feb. 8, Joby announced that it too had received its Part 145 certificate from the FAA. The certificate permits Joby to perform select repairs to the airframe, radio and instruments on its eVTOL aircraft and to begin offering on-the-job training to future aircraft technicians. Having acquired its Part 145, Joby is planning on expanding its maintenance, repair and overhaul services in the coming months and years, the company said in press release.

On Feb. 9, Joby announced that the FAA had accepted the certification plan for Joby’s propulsion system, which includes Joby’s electric propulsion unit, propeller system, variable pitch actuation, coolant pump, nacelles and associated electrical wiring. Joby is close to completing the third of five stages of the type certification process for eVTOL aircraft and will begin addressing the fourth stage, one comprised of detailed testing and analysis of the aircraft’s components.

Joby and Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority (RTA) partnered to launch air taxi services in the United Arab Emirates by early 2026, Joby announced on Feb. 11. In an agreement signed at the World Governments Summit in Dubai, the RTA granted Joby “exclusive right to operate air taxis in Dubai for six years,” according to a Joby press release. Joby also partnered with Skyports, which will design, build and operate four vertiports across Dubai. Initial operations could begin as soon as 2025.

Lilium

Lilium and Lufthansa Group signed a memorandum of understanding to explore a strategic partnership, Lilium announced on Dec. 7. The two companies will study a variety of issues related to eVTOL aircraft, such as ground and flight operations, and aircraft maintenance, as well as potential collaborations with airports and regional partners. “We are thrilled to explore opportunities on bringing eVTOL flights to Lufthansa Group customers,” said Klaus Roewe, CEO of the Munich-based eVTOL developer.

Lilium and Fraport announced on Jan. 10 plans to explore the development of infrastructure for commercial eVTOL operations at airports. Lilium and Fraport, an airport operator with a presence at 30 international airports, will study future mobility concepts for vertiport networks to better understand how this mobility could function in and around airports. The agreement adds to Lilium’s previously established relationships with airports across Germany.

Blueshift announced on Jan. 16 that Lilium selected it to provide a battery thermal protection system (TPS) for the Lilium Jet. Blueshift’s AeroZero TPS will help “prevent burn through and mitigate the risk of thermal runaway propagation,” the Spencer, Massachusetts-based company said in press release.

In addition, Lilium and AJW Group partnered on Jan. 29 to develop a global material services and distribution network for the Lilium Jet and Lilium’s aftermarket services business. AJW Group, a global supplier of aviation spares and parts, will serve as the exclusive parts distributor for Lilium. The German eVTOL developer predicts it will incur a strong level of recurring revenue from its aftermarket business in the future.

Overair

Overair announced on Dec. 19 that it completed the assembly of the first full-scale prototype of its Butterfly eVTOL aircraft, marking a crucial milestone in the company’s progress towards future operations. The Santa Ana, California-based eVTOL developer began tests of the Butterfly prototype in early 2024, the initial focus of which will involve validating the propulsion system, flight control mechanics, safety and operational efficiency, as well as noise emissions in various flight and weather conditions. In a social media post on Feb. 7, Overair said it had successfully tested the low-voltage power system, which powers the aircraft’s avionics and sensors, on board the aircraft.

A unique aspect of the Butterfly design is its use of optimum speed tilt rotor (OSTR) and individual blade control (IBC) technologies, a legacy of the company’s origins as a spin-off of Karem Aircraft. On Dec. 14, Overair announced that the US Navy had awarded it a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract for work on IBC technology. The company’s research will focus on “safety-critical architecture” of IBC technology and its potential military applications.

JetSetGo, a private airplane provider in India, intends to purchase 50 Butterfly eVTOL aircraft, Overair announced on Jan. 18. The commitment is part of JetSetGo’s $1.3B investment in multiple AAM companies like Horizon Aircraft and Electra.aero. As part of the agreement, Overair will also support JetSetGo’s development of an AAM ecosystem in areas like infrastructure and software integration, operation guidance and more.

On Jan. 24, Santa Ana, California-based Overair announced a strategic collaboration with Clay Lacy Aviation to develop a concept of operations for its Butterfly eVTOL aircraft. The two companies, which have been working together for the past year, intend to develop electric charging facilities at Clay Lacy’s FBO locations in Southern California and explore the establishment of new vertiport facilities and services in the region.

Supernal

Supernal, the Los Angeles, California-based AAM subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Group, unveiled the S-A2 eVTOL aircraft mockup at CES (formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show), which ran from Jan. 9–12, in Las Vegas, Nevada. The aircraft has a capacity of five people — four passengers and one pilot — and supersedes the S-A1, Supernal’s original eVTOL concept that it unveiled at CES 2020 (see “Urban Air Mobility Steals the Show at CES 2020,” Vertiflite, March/April 2020). The SA-2 features a V-tail and eight all-tilting rotors; it is designed to cruise at 120 mph (193 km/h) and fly between 25 and 40 miles (40 and 64 km). Supernal is preparing to enter the market in 2028. (Photo by Sergio Cecutta/SMG Consulting for VFS. A photo album of eVTOL aircraft at CES is posted at www.vtol.org/gallery.)

Vertical Aerospace

Vertical announced on Jan. 22 that it secured an investment of up to $50M from Stephen Fitzpatrick, the CEO and majority owner of the Bristol, UK-based eVTOL developer. Under the agreement, Fitzpatrick committed to investing an initial $25M by March 2024 for a fixture of ordinary shares at $10 a share and warrants with a $5 exercise price. Fitpatrick will make a second investment of up to $25M by July 31, 2024, though the final amount will depend on the level of funding secured by the company from alternatives sources by that date. The funding extends the company’s reserves of available cash to the second quarter of 2025 and will serve as the basis for further funding rounds.

The investment comes as the company is asssembling its second-generation, full-scale, piloted VX4 prototype eVTOL aircraft, construction of which is nearing completion at GKN Aerospace’s Global Technology Center. Vertical expects to conduct several public flight demonstrations of the VX4 in the UK in 2024, including at the Farnborough International Airshow.

Wisk Aero

On Dec. 18, Mountain View, California-based Wisk Aero revealed an update to its “Concept of Operations (ConOps) for Uncrewed Urban Air Mobility (UAM).” In the updated, second version of the document, Wisk and Boeing, its parent company, incorporated feedback from industry and government stakeholders and aims to be in alignment with the US Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) own concept of operations. The Wisk document “outlines our approach to the aircraft, ground-based supervisors, infrastructure, airspace integration, and more, and provides a template for safe, everyday, autonomous flight,” said Wisk CEO Brian Yutko in a statement. First published in September 2022, the Wisk concept of operations is based on other earlier studies by Wisk and by Boeing and its subsidiaries, such as Aurora Flight Sciences and Skygrid, as well as by other industry partners.

 

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