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eVTOL Leaders Continue Progress
  • 17 Dec 2022 01:56 AM
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eVTOL Leaders Continue Progress

By Dan Gettinger, Managing Editor
Vertiflite, Jan/Feb 2023

With an eye towards launching operations by the middle of the decade, leading developers of electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft are pressing hard and making demonstrable progress towards certification and beginning advanced air mobility (AAM) operations. Several eVTOL developers, including Beta, EHang and Overair, announced the completion of recent test campaigns, while German firms Lilium and Volocopter revealed the results of new fundraising efforts. After a busy 2022, expectations are high for the coming year. This is a summary of recent news announcements.



Beta Technologies completed another successful cross-country flight with its Alia-250 eVTOL aircraft. In a Dec. 7 post on LinkedIn, the Vermont-based eVTOL developer said that the team flew to the UPS Worldport in Louisville, Kentucky, where Beta introduced the Alia-250 to US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. The Alia-250 completed the 876-mile (1,409-km) journey from New York’s Plattsburgh International Airport in five days, making seven stops to recharge. Beta completed a similar journey in May, when the company completed a record-setting flight from New York to Arkansas (see “Beta Flies Cross Country,” Vertiflite, July/Aug 2022). UPS is an early customer of the Beta Alia-250; it intends to acquire at least 10 and as many as 150 eVTOL aircraft for its Flight Forward subsidiary.



On Oct. 11, EHang announced that it completed a series of flight demonstrations of the EH216 eVTOL aircraft in Spain. The flights were part of the European Union (EU) Air Mobility Urban – Large Experimental Demonstration (AMU-LED) initiative, which has been running from January 2021 to February 2023 to develop and evaluate a concept of operations for urban air mobility (UAM) vehicles. The EH216 flights were conducted at the Rozas Airborne Research Center in Lugo, Spain.

EHang and HAECO Group, the Hong Kong-based subsidiary of Swire Group, have partnered on the manufacturing and assembly of the EH216-S vehicle, the eVTOL developer announced on Oct. 31. “HAECO is well positioned to support EHang and jointly develop the systems, standards, and services required in advanced air mobility,” said Jacqueline Jiang, HAECO Group’s Group Director of Airframe Services, in a statement.

On Nov. 21, EHang announced that it is participating in the Satellite-Based Augmentation Systems (SBAS) Adoption in Multicopter VTOL Aircraft (SAMVA) project. This EU-funded initiative seeks to implement the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay System (EGNOS) version of SBAS on eVTOL aircraft to enhance AAM services. EHang will partner with the Aeroports de Catalunya to conduct flight demonstrations of the EH216 with an EGNOS capability.



Joby announced on Oct. 18 that it applied for the certification of its five-seat Joby S4 aircraft in Japan. Joby has requested that the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau validate the airworthiness criteria the company has received from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The application comes as aviation regulators in Japan and the US have pledged to collaborate on a streamlined process for eVTOL certification. Joby applied for a similar validation from the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in July.

In a Nov. 2 letter to shareholders, Joby said that it was delaying its projection to launch passenger service on its eVTOL aircraft from 2024 to 2025. Joby cited uncertainty on the FAA’s approach to aircraft certification, as well as “internal issues” regarding staffing, as reasons for the delay.

On Nov. 8, the FAA published the proposed airworthiness criteria for the Joby S4, or JAS4-1. The publication, which was made in the US Federal Register, provided new details regarding the approach the FAA intends to make regarding the certification of eVTOL aircraft. The Joby S4, for example, is expected to operate under both Part 135 and Part 91 rules, those for commercial air carriers and general aviation pilots, respectively. This document, the G-1, was originally signed by the FAA in May 2020, but publication was delayed by bureaucratic reasons and then had to be revised after the FAA’s change to using Part 21.17(b) instead of Part 23 (see “Commentary: FAA Changes Course on eVTOL Certification,” Vertiflite, July/Aug 2022). The proposed rule was kept open for public comment until Dec. 22.



Lilium announced on Oct. 27 that it partnered with Saudia airlines to develop an eVTOL network across Saudi Arabia. Saudia, the national flag carrier of the country, intends to purchase 100 Lilium Jets, which will form the basis of “new electric point-to-point connections.” Under the memorandum of understanding, Saudia pledged to help expedite the regulatory processes for the Lilium Jet in Saudi Arabia.

Chell Instruments, a UK-based firm specializing in pressure and gas flow instrumentation, said on Oct. 27 that it is providing its nanoDAQ-LTS for the Lilium Jet. The nanoDAQ-LTS is used by Lilium to measure air pressures on the aircraft during development. On Nov. 23, Lilium announced that it successfully closed a $119M funding round. The eVTOL developer raised the funds from “existing shareholders, new investors, and strategic partners,” including Honeywell Aerospace and Aciturri. “These proceeds are expected to strengthen our balance sheet and advance our commercialization efforts,” said Lilium CEO Klaus Roewe.

eVolare, a subsidiary of the UK-based charter operator Volare Aviation, will purchase up to 20 Lilium Jet eVTOL aircraft, Lilium announced on Dec. 5. The two companies signed a binding contract that includes a pre-delivery payment for 10 Lilium Pioneer Edition Jets, with an option for 10 additional aircraft. eVolare will be the launch customer for the Pioneer Edition, a “limited edition” of the Lilium Jet that includes customizable options for cabin configuration, according to a Lilium press release.



Overair announced in mid-October that it has completed ground tests of the propulsion system for its Butterfly quad tiltrotor eVTOL aircraft. Overair initiated the ground tests in January, mounting one of the 20-ft (6.1-m) diameter tilting rotors on a truck. “The results showed that the propulsor behaves in the way it was designed to. As expected, it was very quiet,” said Overair CEO Ben Tigner in an interview with Flight Global. On Oct. 24, Aviation Week reported that the California-based eVTOL developer has begun assembling the XP-1, an uncrewed full-scale demonstrator of the Butterfly. The work is expected to be complete by the end of 2023.



On Oct. 17, Supernal and Honeywell Aerospace announced that the two companies will explore the integration of the Honeywell Anthem, its next-generation flight deck, on the Supernal eVTOL aircraft.

Also on Oct. 17, Supernal and BAE Systems announced that the two companies have partnered to develop the flight control computer for the Supernal eVTOL aircraft. BAE Systems will help “define the architecture of a lightweight, fly-by-wire system for its autonomous-capable aircraft,” according to a BAE press release. BAE Systems has previously announced partnerships with eVTOL developers Eve Air Mobility and Jaunt Air Mobility.



Vertical Aerospace has completed 14 piloted test flights of its VX4 prototype, the UK-based eVTOL developer said in a summary of the company’s third-quarter financial results on Nov. 9. It had accumulated 5.5 hours of continuous propeller turning during test operations since the VX4 prototype successfully conducted its first tethered flight on Sept. 24. Vertical also reported in its letter to shareholders a net operating loss for the third quarter of £19M ($23.4M) and cash of £145M ($178.3M). Additionally, Vertical said that it has agreed with American Airlines to extend the timeline for “entering into a master purchase agreement that will contain the final terms for the purchase of our aircraft” for up to one year. Vertical had previously announced on July 15 that it had secured a predelivery payment of 50 VX4 eVTOL aircraft from American (see “eVTOL Leaders Continue Momentum,” Vertiflite, Sept/Oct 2022).



On Oct. 6, German eVTOL developer Volocopter conducted the first crewed eVTOL public test flight in Italian airspace, at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport. The Volocopter 2X flew for five minutes at a height of 131 ft (40 m) and at a speed of 24 mph (40 km/h). Together with partners Aeroporti di Roma, Atlantia and UrbanV, Volocopter is supporting efforts to develop the vertiport infrastructure that will enable the launch of AAM services between the airport and the city of Rome by 2024. Volocopter announced on Nov. 1 that it has raised an additional $182M. The announcement is the second signing of its Series E funding round; the first signing concluded in March and was for $170M. NOEM, an organization seeking to build a smart city in Saudi Arabia, provided the majority — $175M — of the funds. The investment comes one year after Volocopter and NOEM announced a joint venture to implement air taxi and vertical logistics services in the future city. GLy Capital Management of Hong Kong also participated in this second Series E.

On Nov. 10, Volocopter inaugurated a vertiport terminal at Pontoise-Cormeilles Aerodrome, an airport northwest of Paris that serves as a test site for AAM operations. The vertiport, a collaboration with Groupe ADP and Skyports, will enable the testing of vehicle integration and movement, flight scheduling, and passenger travel. The launch event included a crewed test flight of the Volocopter 2X and a static display of a model of the VoloCity, the company’s planned commercial services aircraft (see photo).

On Nov. 30, Volocopter completed a two-week flight test campaign for Europe’s CORUS-XUAM project using the VoloDrone, its heavy-lift cargo eVTOL carrier. The CORUSXUAM project seeks to harmonize existing and new air traffic management systems to accommodate the introduction of autonomous aircraft and other AAM operations. The test flights occurred at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) National Experimental Test Center for Unmanned Aircraft at Magdeburg-Cochstedt Airport in northern Germany.

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