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Electric CTOL/STOL News, July/Aug 2023
  • 01 Jul 2023 07:08 PM
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Electric CTOL/STOL News, July/Aug 2023

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.

Whisper Reveals Funding, Whisper Jet

Whisper Aero announced on April 20 that it had raised $32M in a Series A funding round led by Menlo Ventures, EVE Atlas, Capricorn Investment Group and Connor Capital. Seven other investment firms also joined the round. The funding will help the Crossville, Tennessee-based company expand its team and open two new facilities, a 40,000-ft² (3,700-m²) production facility in Crossville and an 8,000-ft² (740-m²) engineering office in Nashville. Whisper is working on fulfilling contracts for its quiet aircraft propulsors with the US Department of Defense and has plans for potential commercial applications beginning later in the decade.

In June, Whisper unveiled its Whisper Jet, a design for a nine-passenger eSTOL aircraft that will showcase the company’s unique technology. In presentations at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) AVIATION conference in San Diego, Whisper said that using the company’s propriety ducted fan engines, the Whisper Jet could achieve both high efficiency and low noise. To reduce noise, the ducted fan engines incorporate a large number of blades, which spin at high rates to generate a level of noise that is inaudible to humans, according to a report in The Air Current. Although it does not intend to build the aircraft itself, Whisper may work with an aircraft manufacturer to realize the design.

Britten-Norman, Cranfield to Merge

On April 21, Britten-Norman and Cranfield Aerospace Solutions (CAeS) signed an agreement to merge, accelerating efforts by the UK-based companies to develop hydrogen-powered regional transport aircraft. The agreement will allow CAeS to adapt its hydrogen-electric fuel cell propulsion technology to the Britten-Norman Islander, a nine-seat aircraft designed for short-range passenger service. The two companies expect to field the hydrogen-powered Islander by 2026 and are eyeing longer-term plans of converting or designing a 19-seat and, eventually, 100-seat aircraft to run on hydrogen. The merger is expected to be completed in mid- 2023 and, once finalized, will result in an additional £10M ($12.7M) invested in the new company from existing CAeS shareholders. CAeS was spun off from Cranfield University in 1997.

Meanwhile, both Cranfield Aerospace and Britten-Norman announced new partners and expansion plans. On April 14, CAeS revealed that Evolito, a UK-based company specializing in electric propulsion, joined Cranfield’s program to develop a hydrogen-powered demonstrator; this aircraft, known as Project Fresson, began the collaboration between the two companies in 2019. On June 13, Britten-Norman said that it would add two new production lines at its facility in Bembridge on the Isle of Wright. The investment, which includes new jigs and tooling, is partly in preparation for the planned launch of the zero-emissions Islander in 2026, according to a company press release. Britten-Norman, which was founded on the Isle of Wright in 1954, has subcontracted most of its aircraft production to Romania for the past half century.

AURA Aero Displays New Design

In a public presentation on May 12, AURA Aero revealed a new design for its planned 19-passenger, hybrid-electric regional aircraft. The redesigned Electric Regional Aircraft, or ERA, will have eight engines instead of the six originally envisioned and will feature two turbogenerators and four electric battery packs. According to AURA, the aircraft, the design for which is now frozen, will have a range of 900 nm (1,667 km) and is expected to enter service in 2028, one year later than previously planned. AURA, which is based outside of Toulouse, France, also announced on May 12 that it had made progress on securing the certification of its two-seat Integral E electric trainer with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA); it expects the aircraft to be certified and begin service with flight schools in 2024.

VoltAero Backed by Industry, Government 

On May 22, VoltAero announced that Japan’s Kawasaki Motors, Ltd., had joined VoltAero’s Series B funding round, becoming a strategic investor in the Médis, France-based company. The investment, the amount of which was not publicly disclosed, will support VoltAero’s work on the Cassio 330 (shown), a five-seat aircraft powered by a 330-kW hybrid-electric propulsion system and the first of a family of aircraft planned by the France-based developer. “Kawasaki’s engine expertise and its capacity for innovation brings a new dimension to VoltAero as we complete the final definition of our electric-hybrid powertrain for the Cassio aircraft family,” said Jean Botti, VoltAero’s CEO and Chief Technology Officer. In May, VoltAero revealed plans for an 80,000-ft² (7,400-m²) factory at Rochefort–Charente-Maritime Airport in western France.

Meanwhile, SKY2SHARE placed a pre-order for 15 hybrid-electric Cassio aircraft, VoltAero announced on May 23. The Switzerland-based aviation company intends to purchase five Cassio 330 aircraft, as well as five each of the six-seat Cassio 480 and 12-seat Cassio 600. The agreement brings VoltAero’s catalogue of orders and commitments to 218 aircraft. On June 8, VoltAero announced that it had received a €5.6M ($6.1M) grant from the French government to assist with work on the Cassio 330. BPI France, a government agency tasked with supporting entrepreneurs, awarded the grant under the auspices of the France 2030 investment plan, the goal of which is to support sustainability while achieving economic growth.

Electra Unveils the Goldfinch

In a ceremony on June 12 in Manassas, Virginia, Electra unveiled a full-scale demonstrator of its eSTOL aircraft. The Electra Model EL-2 “Goldfinch” is a two-seat technology demonstrator featuring eight motors, each of which are located on the aircraft’s high-mounted wing. It also includes Electra’s proprietary hybrid-electric generator, tests of which the company began in September. The company intends to conduct an “extensive” flight test program with the technology demonstrator this summer. The program will inform the development of the company’s nine-passenger production aircraft, which Electra intends to begin flight testing in 2025, with a service entry date planned for 2028. (VFS photo)

Tecnam Drops eCTOL P-Volt

Italian piston-aircraft producer Costruzioni Aeronautiche Tecnam announced on June 13 that, after “three years of intensive studies,” it was suspending development of its P-Volt aircraft. “Tecnam has a deep understanding of electric flight, gained from previous projects such as the H3PS hybrid aircraft based on the P2010 four-seater,” the company stated, concluding that even production batteries in five years “would quickly degrade after a few weeks of operation” to be uneconomical. The P-Volt, with a Rolls-Royce electric propulsion system, was to be an all-electric version of the company’s P2012 twin-engine light regional aircraft with Widerøe airlines in Norway as the launch customer. “With dozens of EASA and FAA certifications, Tecnam is the most active General Aviation manufacturer in the world with the highest number of new type certifications in recent years,” the company stated.

Elfly Reveals Noemi Seaplane

Elfly Group revealed its design for the all-electric Noemi seaplane at a June 14 event in Oslo, Norway. The design for the Noemi, a name short for “no emissions,” is inspired both by the Grumman Mallard and the DHC Twin Otter and features two motors, the combined power of which is said to be nearly 1 MW. It is expected to carry between six and 13 passengers and have a range of 125 miles (200 km) at speeds up to 155 mph (250 km/h). Elfly, which was founded in 2018 and is based in Bergen, intends to initially offer the aircraft for commercial service on domestic routes between communities on Norway’s fjords and along the country’s long coastline, potentially beginning in 2030. The company is planning to begin flying a prototype in 2025.

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