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eVTOL Leaders Continue Developments
  • 29 Mar 2023 04:56 AM
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eVTOL Leaders Continue Developments

By Dan Gettinger, Managing Editor
Vertiflite, Mar/Apr 2023

In the past months, several of the leading electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft companies have made announcements that could be critical to their success in the future. Some of the eVTOL developers have moved to strengthen their balance sheet, while others have sought out additional partners in areas involving technology and manufacturing. For many, the pressure is on to demonstrate progress towards certification and production in the final years before they hope to launch commercial services. The following represents a summary of recent news.

Archer Aviation

Stellantis, the multinational automotive group, announced on Jan. 4 that it will provide Archer with manufacturing support at its recently announced manufacturing facility in Covington, Georgia, where the companies intend to produce the Midnight eVTOL, which Archer unveiled in November 2022 (see “Archer’s Midnight Showing,” Vertiflite, Jan/Feb 2023). In a press release, Stellantis said that it will contribute advanced manufacturing technology and experienced personnel to Archer. Stellantis has been an investor in and partner to Archer since 2021.

Stellantis — which owns Chrysler, Fiat, Jeep, Maserati, Peugeot and 10 other brands — also announced that it will provide up to $150M of equity capital to Archer in 2023 and 2024, though the funds will be subject to Archer’s achievement of certain business milestones in the coming year. According to a filing in January with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, and detailed at Future Flight, some of these milestones include the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) acceptance of Archer’s proposed means of compliance for airworthiness criteria and the Midnight’s full transition from hover to wingborne flight. The company is currently completing critical design; it expects to make its first flight of Midnight next year.

Prior to the start of production in Georgia, which is expected to occur in 2025, Archer will begin low-rate initial production of its Midnight eVTOL at a facility in San Jose, California. In January, Archer finalized the lease on a 68,300-ft² (6,345-m²) facility in North San Jose, around a half-mile (1 km) from its headquarters, which it moved to from Palo Alto last year. According to SMG Consulting’s Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) Reality Index (www.AAMRealityIndex.com), Archer has 200 conditional orders and 100 firm orders for its Midnight eVTOL aircraft.

Beta Technologies

Vermont-based eVTOL developer Beta Technologies partnered with the National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) at Wichita State University in Kansas to evaluate the safety of eVTOL batteries. On Dec. 7, researchers at NIAR conducted a test in which it dropped one of Beta’s 800-Volt battery packs from a height of 50 ft (15 m). In a video on the company’s Vimeo.com channel, Beta said that the company, “proved the safety of its battery pack” with the drop test, which “showed no significant damage at the cell or pack level.” The test provided data that will validate NIAR’s simulation model and refine it for future safety testing for the industry as part of an ongoing FAA-sponsored program at NIAR to develop requirements for lithium-ion batteries and eVTOL aircraft.

According to SMG, Beta has conditional orders for 280 and firm orders for 130 Alia aircraft.

EHang Holdings Limited

EHang announced on Dec. 23 that it has entered into a strategic partnership with the Qingdao West Coast New Area. The investment arm of the area, which is in the northeastern Shandong province, will invest $10M in the eVTOL developer, and possibly an additional $10M in the future. EHang will establish its Northeast Asia headquarters and firefighting center in Qingdao.

EHang also intends to conduct a demonstration flight of its EH216 eVTOL aircraft in Curitiba, Brazil, according to a Jan. 20 report in MundoGEO. The flight, potentially the first of its kind in Latin America, is expected to take place during the Smart City Curitiba Expo on March 22 and 24. EHang is planning to create a regional headquarters and logistics center in Curitiba. The company expects to receive its Type Certification from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) soon. In an earnings call on Dec. 2, Huazhi Hu, EHang founder, Chairman and CEO, and EHang COO Xin Fang noted that the company had submitted its application to the CAAC at the end of 2020 and that certification “was originally scheduled to complete by around December [2022],” but due to the resurgence of COVID in China at the end of the year, “our expectation may be around January [2023].”

Hu also noted that “EH216 [aircraft] have accumulated more than 30,000 safe flights and data records over the years.” Fang said that as part of its “100 Air Mobility Routes Initiative” launched last year, the company had by then completed over 6,800 operational trial flights with the EH216 in practical aerial sightseeing scenarios at 15 operation locations across China to accumulate valuable experience for post-certification commercial operations. These locations included three of the four largest Chinese cities: Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

According to SMG, EHang has 1,230 conditional orders and 169 firm orders for its eVTOL aircraft.

Eve Air Mobility

FlyBIS, an AAM startup headquartered in southern Brazil, announced on Dec. 8 that it intends to purchase up to 40 of Eve’s eVTOL aircraft. FlyBIS, which is backed by the Brazilian management firm Brave Aviation, intends to offer AAM services in Brazil’s South Region before expanding to neighboring countries. “This new collaboration with FlyBIS will enable us to expand the future of air mobility to Southern areas of Brazil and other South American countries,” said Eve co-CEO Andre Stein in a statement.

On Dec. 23, Eve Air Mobility announced that the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) has extended the Brazilian eVTOL developer two new lines of credit totaling $92.5M. The BNDES credit lines have a maturity of 12 years. “We’ve reached an agreement… to significantly enhance our balance sheet,” said Eve co-CEO Jerry DuMuro in an earnings call. “And we’re doing that through a financing vehicle that is completely aligned with the core values of this business — reducing carbon emissions and sustainable, environmentally friendly transportation.”

According to SMG, Eve has conditional orders for 2,770 aircraft. The company revealed in 2021 that it had flown a subscale test aircraft of its original configuration but has not provided any updates since.

Joby Aviation

On Jan. 12, SK Telecom and Joby Aviation reaffirmed their commitment to advancing the commercialization of AAM in South Korea. The two companies formed a strategic partnership in early 2022 and have discussed a range of issues related to AAM in South Korea, including the certification of Joby’s eVTOL aircraft and possible infrastructure projects. “Having been in our second year of full-scale collaboration, we will continue our best to serve as a bridge in the Korea-US partnership and lead the successful commercialization of K-UAM,” Yoo Young-sang, CEO of SK Telecom, said in a statement.

On Feb. 1, the company posted a photo on social media that showed the cabin of the first aircraft to be produced on Joby’s pilot manufacturing line in Marina, California (see sidebar), heading “into our large autoclave to be cured at a precise temperature and pressure.” The process hardens the composite structure into a material with a high strength-to-weight ratio, the company stated. The company released a video on Feb. 6 of Joby mating the tail and the fuselage of the first aircraft to be produced on its Marina pilot line (see photo). Previous aircraft had been built at its headquarters facilities in Santa Cruz.

Joby plans to operate its own aircraft and has not announced any commercial orders, but says it has completed more than 1,000 flights of its sub-scale and full-scale test aircraft over the past decade. Its two full-scale, pre-production prototype aircraft — one of which was lost in an accident last February (see “Pushing the Envelope: Joby Aviation in 2022,” Vertiflite, March/April 2022) — flew more than 10,800 miles (17,380 km) last year.

Lilium

Aeronamic, a Dutch firm, announced on Jan. 24 that it will manufacture the fan for the Lilium Jet’s propulsion system. In a press release, Aeronamic said that the partnership with Lilium fits with the company’s program focused on the electrification of flight. “We are beyond proud that this collaboration has come about and that Aeronamic will contribute to the development of Lilium’s sustainable, high-speed air mobility eVTOL aircraft,” said Aeronamic Vice President Reinoud Siezen.

Lilium announced on Jan. 31 that it will work with GKN Aerospace, a UK-based multinational automotive and aerospace firm, to design and build the wiring system for the Lilium Jet. The two companies will develop and certify the electrical wiring interconnection system (EWIS) for the aircraft. GKN Aerospace will also provide on-site installation support at Lilium’s assembly line in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, outside of Munich.

GKN Aerospace also supplied Arlington, Washington, US-based electric airplane company Eviation and Bristol, UK-based eVTOL developer Vertical Aerospace with its EWIS and aerostructures. Vertical built its VX4 eVTOL aircraft at GKN’s Global Technology Centre in Bristol last summer.

According to SMG, Lilium — which is in critical design of its “7-Seater Jet” production configuration — has conditional orders for 593 Lilium Jets and firm orders for 10. It has been flying its two uncrewed Pegasus test aircraft — sized for five seats — since 2019, though the first aircraft was lost in a ground fire in early 2020 (see “Lilium Goes Big,” Vertiflite, May/June 2021).

Supernal

Supernal announced on Jan. 3 that it will collaborate with Microsoft on critical technologies for AAM operations. Microsoft will provide Supernal with early access to Project AirSim, a program that uses Microsoft’s Azure computing platform to “generate significant amounts of environment and sensory data to train machine learning models that simulate all phases of flight and variable weather patterns.”

Washington, DC-based Supernal, which is part of South Korean automotive giant Hyundai, expects that the program will help it accelerate efforts to develop autonomous capabilities for its eVTOL aircraft.

The company has not unveiled its final design or any sub-scale or large-scale test aircraft, and not announced any orders.

Vertical Aerospace

Bristol-based Vertical Aerospace announced on Jan. 19 that it has received a pre-delivery payment from Marubeni Corporation for 25 VX4 eVTOL aircraft. In total, Marubeni, a Japanese trading company based in Tokyo, expects to acquire 200 VX4 aircraft, a deal the two companies revealed in September 2021 (see “Vertical, Eve Add Orders for Hundreds of Aircraft,” Vertiflite, Nov/Dec 2021). Marubeni has already conducted proof-of-concept demonstration trials of AAM services in preparation for the Expo 2025 in Osaka. The predelivery payment represents Vertical’s first in Asia.

According to SMG, Vertical — which made the first tethered liftoff of its VX4 in September (see “Electric VTOL News: Vertical Lifts Off Under Cover,” Vertiflite, Nov/Dec 2022) — has conditional orders for 1,375 and firm orders for 75 of its VX4 eVTOL aircraft.

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