eVTOL Leaders Continue to Partner for Growth
By Dan Gettinger, Managing Editor
Vertiflite, Sept/Oct 2023
The leading developers of electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft had a busy summer. The past few months were marked by key announcements regarding efforts by these companies to secure government backing, identify suppliers and achieve flight test objectives towards advanced air mobility (AAM) operations. The Paris Air Show (see “AAM Showcase at Paris Air Show,” Vertiflite, Sept/Oct 2023) and the VFS Electric Aircraft Symposium (EAS) at Oshkosh (see “Electric Aircraft Symposium Highlights AAM Progress,” Vertiflite, Sept/Oct 2023) provided additional opportunities for these companies to showcase their progress to the public. The following represents a summary of recent activities by the leading developers of eVTOL aircraft.
In late June, Archer Aviation hosted members from the US federal government’s AAM Interagency Working Group at its flight test facility in Santa Clara, California. The visit included over 70 representatives from federal departments and agencies. In addition to witnessing a live flight test of Archer’s uncrewed Maker demonstrator, the working group members heard from Archer executives on the company’s approach to aircraft design, safety and certification.
The AAM Interagency Working Group is in the process of preparing to draft a national AAM strategy (see “Electric Aircraft Symposium Highlights AAM Progress,” Vertiflite, Sept/Oct 2023); a request for information (RFI) was open until Aug. 17. The Working Group also visited Joby Aviation and Wisk while in the San Francisco Bay Area, and met with industry, labor, academia, infrastructure and local government representatives at NASA Ames Research Center.
Archer announced on July 31 that the US Air Force had awarded it multiple contracts; if all options are executed, the total value would be up to $142M (see “Archer Solidifies Position in eVTOL Sector,” Vertiflite, Sept/Oct 2023). In a statement, Archer described the contracts as an expansion of its ongoing relationship with the US military, beginning with its involvement in the Air Force’s AFWERX Agility Prime program.
“Our contracts with Archer Aviation provide the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Air Force the opportunity to play a role in ensuring from the onset, and as the technology evolves, that we unlock the many benefits these aircraft have to offer the U.S. military,” said Col. Tom Meagher, the lead for AFWERX Agility Prime programs, in a statement.
The Air Force’s contract for Archer follows a similar award for Joby Aviation in April in which the Air Force awarded a contract valued up to $131M. Other military services have expressed a possible interest in using eVTOL aircraft for logistics and personnel transport. On Aug. 7, Archer said that it had showcased its Midnight aircraft to representatives from the US Marine Corps, a visit that, Archer said, demonstrated the “growing interest in Archer’s Midnight aircraft across the US military.”
Eve Air Mobility
On June 14, Eve Air Mobility and United Airlines announced that the two companies had partnered to launch commercial eVTOL flights in California’s San Francisco Bay Area. The announcement marks the start of a range of collaborative activities by the two companies to bring commuter services to the region, including the identification of future route networks and destination areas. Eve and United first partnered in 2022, when the latter made a $15M investment in Eve and signed a conditional purchase agreement for 200 eVTOL aircraft with an option for an additional 200 aircraft.
In a memorandum of understanding signed at the Paris Air Show on June 19, Eve and Blade Air Mobility announced that the two companies would expand their partnership by accelerating efforts to introduce eVTOL aircraft in Europe. Eve and Blade promised to integrate Eve’s eVTOL aircraft with Blade’s European network, beginning with operations in France. Eve and Blade previously partnered to introduce Eve’s eVTOL aircraft in India and in the United States.
On June 20, Eve and Voar Aviation announced the signing of a letter of intent to evaluate the sale and purchase of 70 eVTOL aircraft. The São Paulo-based aircraft charter intends to explore the use of the aircraft to expand its operations in Brazil, particularly in metropolitan areas and tourist destinations. In a statement, Eve said that the potential sale brought its order backlog to 2,770 eVTOL aircraft.
Melbourne, Florida-based Eve and São José dos Campos, Brazil-based parent company Embraer announced on July 20 plans to build a production facility for eVTOL aircraft in Taubaté, another city in the state of São Paulo. In a statement, Eve said that the site would benefit from highway and railroad access, as well as from its proximity to Embraer’s headquarters. The announcement is the product of Eve’s partnership in 2022 with Porsche Consulting on the industrialization of Eve’s eVTOL aircraft and other strategic concepts in manufacturing and logistics.
On June 28, Joby Aviation announced that the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had awarded it a Special Airworthiness Certificate for the first aircraft manufactured by Joby’s pilot production line in Marina, California (shown). Joby is expected to deliver the aircraft to the Air Force in 2024 as part of the Agility Prime contract awarded to it in April. The news coincided with a visit by California Governor Gavin Newsome to Joby’s facilities on June 25. “Our worldleading climate action relies on the technological advances and pioneering spirit of the private sector,” said Newsome in a statement
On June 29, Joby announced that it had received an investment of $100M from South Korea’s SK Telecom (SKT). The agreement, which was signed two days earlier, will enable Joby to join SKT in participating in the “K-UAM Grand Challenge,” a government-backed, large-scale, phased demonstration project aimed at developing operating concepts and technical standards for eVTOL and AAM vehicles. Together with Hanwha Systems and Korea Airports Corp., Joby is now part of SKT’s “K-UAM Dream Team” in the competition. Joby and SKT began coordinating work on AAM activities in early 2022 and, in January, recommitted to the strategic partnership.
In an Aug. 2 letter, Joby informed shareholders of a $286M net loss, one that reflected losses on the re-evaluation of derivative liabilities and operating expenses. As of the end of the second quarter of 2023, the California-based eVTOL developer had $1.2B in cash and short-term investments. Joby also mentioned that its first production aircraft (mentioned above) had begun flight testing.
Munich, Germany-based Lilium announced on June 26 that the FAA had issued it a G-1 Certification Basis, which establishes airworthiness and environmental requirements necessary to achieve an FAA Type Certification. Lilium secured a similar letter from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in 2020. Lilium and EASA will have the opportunity to provide feedback to the FAA before the G-1 is made available for public review.
Meanwhile, on July 6, Lilium announced that it completed the “fourth and final” Design Organization Approval (DOA) audit by EASA. In a statement, Lilium called it a “key milestone in progress towards becoming an EASA DOA holder,” an important requirement for aircraft manufacturers. Lilium applied for the EASA DOA in 2017 and must complete a final phase of the process, one involving completing all outstanding tasks. It expects EASA to issue the DOA certificate later this year.
Lilium announced on July 18 that it had raised $192M in its latest founding round, bring the total amount raised for the year to $292M. In a statement, Lilium said that it expects the funds will allow it to cover expenses of developing the Lilium Jet to the point of achieving “its first manned flight of the type-conforming aircraft,” which the company expects to occur in the second half of 2024. Participants in the funding round included Earlybird Venture Capital, BIT Capital, UVC Partners and Frank Thelen, among others.
The company also noted in early August that the third five-seat “Phoenix” demonstrator had been moved to the ATLAS Flight Test Center in Spain to join the second aircraft, which has been testing there since April 2022. In addition, the fuselage of the seven-seat Lilium Jet was moved into production at Lilium’s aerostructures partner Aciturri, based in Miranda de Ebro, Spain. Lilium expects the first fuselage to be delivered to its assembly facility in Munich before the end of the year.
In a post on social media in mid-July, Overair hinted at progress on developing the full-scale demonstrator for its Butterfly eVTOL aircraft with a photo of its fuselage (shown). Initially planned for the second half of 2023, Overair expects to begin test flights of its full-scale prototype “around the turn of the year” or in early 2024, according to a July 31 interview with CEO Ben Tigner in the Orange County Business Journal. The company is aiming to certify the aircraft in 2027, said Tigner. The Butterfly is expected to have a five-passenger capacity and range of 100 miles (161 km), according to the VFS World eVTOL Aircraft Directory (www.eVTOL.news/aircraft).
Meanwhile, Overair hosted a visit in late July by US Congressional Representative Lou Correa (D-CA) to its facility in Orange County, California. In a post on social media, Overair said that the visit allowed Rep. Correa to see the company’s progress on its full-scale prototype and to learn about the potential benefits that aviation could bring to his district.
Supernal, the US-based eVTOL division of South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Group, revealed a trio of new suppliers at the Paris Air Show. On June 19, Supernal announced that it had partnered with GKN Aerospace to design and build the major aerostructures and Electrical Wiring Interconnection System (EWIS) for Supernal’s eVTOL aircraft. GKN, which has previously partnered with Vertical Aerospace and Lilium (among others), will help Supernal “develop volume ramp-up capabilities” to allow it to rapidly scale production, according to a Supernal press release.
Texas-based Qarbon Aerospace will assist Supernal with maturing its component welding techniques, Supernal said in a June 20 press release. The two companies signed an agreement at Qarbon’s booth at Le Bourget, pledging to work together to roadmap Supernal’s manufacturing capabilities. Finally, UMBRAGROUP will supply actuators and motor control electronics to Supernal in an agreement signed at the Air Show on June 21. In a press release, Supernal said it was attracted to UMBRAGROUP’s “new line of actuators,” which it said are “smaller, lighter and more efficient.”
Vertical Aerospace conducted a series of thrust-borne test flights with its uncrewed VX4 eVTOL aircraft, the UK-based eVTOL developer announced in a social media post on July 19. In one of the tests at Cotswold Airport, the remotely piloted VX4 full-scale prototype reached speeds of 40 kt (74 km/h). In a letter to shareholders dated Aug. 3, Vertical said that it had conducted 18 takeoffs and landing in a flight test campaign between June and August. The prototype “generally exceeded” the company’s expectations in the campaign, leading it to proceed with planning crewed ground and flight tests.
Unfortunately, a post by Charlotte Bailey on PilotWeb.aero on Aug. 9 indicated that the aircraft (G-EVTL) was lost in an accident after it “crashed from approximately 20ft [6.1 m] during an unmanned inflight shutdown.” However, the shareholder letter indicated that the second prototype aircraft was under construction: “Assembly of this next VX4 is commencing, having established our base at our partner GKN’s Global Technology Centre (GTC) facility, as we did with our first demonstrator.”
In a July 31 press release, the UK-based engineering firm Equipmake said that it had provided an electric propulsion unit (EPU) for Vertical’s prototype eVTOL aircraft. The motor uses Equipmake’s proprietary rotor design. “[W]e’re delighted to be supporting [Vertical] on its journey and are looking forward to further assisting in accelerating prototype vehicle development,” said Equipmake CEO Ian Foley in a statement.
On June 22, Volocopter and Safran Electrical & Power announced plans to collaborate on a “next generation power train” for eVTOL aircraft. The two companies will explore commercial and engineering partnerships on aspects such as an electrical propulsion system and battery units, among others. “Optimizing battery density and improving EPS effectiveness is the biggest performance lever for lightweight aircraft like eVTOLs,” said Volocopter CEO Dirk Hoke in a statement.
The company announced on July 31 that it had taken delivery of a Diamond Aircraft DA-62 that it will use to “optimize all airline processes for commercial flights” with its VoloCity eVTOL air taxi service at the Paris Olympics next summer. The DA-62 will be used to establish Volocopter as a certified Aircraft Operator (AOC) — Volocopter Air Services — and obtain an Operating License (OL) for the first countries it intends to operate commercially. The company noted in December that it had already obtained Design Organisation Approval (DOA) and Production Organisation Approval (POA), while it’s working toward achieving Type Certification (TC) for the VoloCity.
The company noted on July 27 that it had completed more than 2,000 test flights on its seven flight test models — the VC1, VC2, VC200, 2X, VoloDrone, VoloCity and VoloRegion (see www.eVTOL.news/aircraft) — since making the world’s first translational, human-carrying, electric VTOL flight in October 2011.