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Momentum Builds for eCTOL and eSTOL Aircraft
  • 09 Nov 2021 01:37 PM
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Momentum Builds for eCTOL and eSTOL Aircraft

By Dan Gettinger, Managing Editor
Vertiflite, Nov/Dec 2021

With new contracts, partnerships and flight tests spanning multiple countries and companies, efforts are advancing to develop electric conventional takeoff and landing (eCTOL) and electric short takeoff and landing (eSTOL) aircraft for advanced air mobility (AAM) applications.

Electric CTOL Updates

In August, Hawthorne, California-based Ampaire began conducting a series of demonstration flights in the UK of its Electric EEL aircraft, a Cessna 337 Skymaster modified with one of the two engines replaced by an electric power plant. Funded in part by the UK government, the demonstration flights are part of an effort to use hybrid-electric technology to reduce the costs and emissions of flights on short, regional routes.

Médis, France-based VoltAero flew its Cassio 1 hybrid-electric airplane (also based on the Cessna 337 Skymaster) across the English Channel on Sept. 13. It took off from Calais-Dunkirk Airport, France, to Cranfield University and then on to London’s Biggin Hill Airport for a conference. It then returned to Médis.

Meanwhile, on Sept. 15, Rolls-Royce conducted the maiden flight of the Spirit of Innovation, an all-electric eCTOL demonstrator. The Spirit of Innovation (shown) took off from Boscombe Down, a UK Ministry of Defence testing site in southern England, and flew for 15 minutes. Rolls-Royce is developing the aircraft under its ACCEL (“Accelerating the Electrification of Flight”) program to set a new 300+ mph (480 km/h) world speed record for electric aircraft.

Meanwhile, on Oct. 4, NASA awarded GE Aviation $179M and MagniX $74.3M in 5-year contracts for ground and flight test demonstration of their electric aircraft propulsion technologies. The contracts are in support of the Electric Powertrain Flight Demonstration program.

Electric STOL Updates

Rolls-Royce made the first flight of its high-speed all-electric demonstrator, the Spirit of Innovation, on Sept. 15. (Rolls-Royce)

Airflow, the San Francisco-based eSTOL aircraft developer, announced on Aug. 17 that it had received orders for its eSTOL aircraft from 11 customers for a cumulative order book worth more than $600M, three times what Airflow reported in June 2021. According to Future Flight, the sharp increase in orders is the result of engagement with “existing Part 135 commercial operators,” though the company declined to identify the full list of its customers. In June, Ravn Alaska, a regional airline, placed an order for 50 eSTOL aircraft; SMG Consulting’s AAM Reality Index website (www.AAMrealityindex.com) shows that the company has orders totaling 238 aircraft.

Electra.aero, a US developer of eSTOL aircraft, announced on Oct. 4 that Skyportz, an Australian AAM infrastructure company, intends to buy up to 100 of the Electra aircraft. Deliveries are expected to begin in 2026. At the same time, Electra.aero announced that Flapper, an air mobility company in Latin America, will acquire 30 of the Electra aircraft. The news follows an agreement on Aug. 26 Momentum Builds for eCTOL and eSTOL Aircraft between Electra.aero and Bristow Group for an expected delivery of 50 eSTOL aircraft. The three orders for up to 180 eSTOL aircraft are worth more than $500M, Electra.aero said in a press release.

The Electra eSTOL flying out of Geelong, Australia. The company has signed agreements with Flapper in Latin America and with Australian AAM infrastructure developer, Skyportz. (Electra)

In Australia, the Electra.aero aircraft could be among the first aircraft to service within an emerging network of AAM infrastructure. In an announcement at the Air Taxi World Congress in London on Oct. 16, Skyportz stated that it will build an air taxi hub in Moreton Bay, Brisbane, Australia. It will be Australia’s first air taxi infrastructure and is expected to be established in time for the 2032 Summer Olympics in Brisbane. “Our networks around the world will be available for all air taxi entrants but our first partner is the very exciting Electra.aero aircraft from the USA,” said Clem Newton-Brown, CEO of Skyportz, in a statement.

Meanwhile, Skyportz launched new funding efforts and partnerships in a bid to advance the development of a network of AAM infrastructure sites. Between Aug. 29 and Sept. 13, Skyportz created a crowdfunding campaign to support future AAM infrastructure development. On Sept. 1, Skyportz announced that it had partnered with Australian helicopter firm Microflite to develop the AAM sector in Australia. The two companies intend to evaluate various new electric aircraft types as they progress through the certification and toward operations.

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