US Air Force partners with Electra on ultra-short takeoff aircraft
The US Air Force's flying car program, Agility Prime, is hedging its bets on advanced air mobility, adding an ultra-short takeoff and landing (ultra-STOL) aircraft from Electra.aero into the mix alongside a number of eVTOL projects.
Electra's design is a reasonably traditional looking plane capable of carrying up to seven passengers and a pilot. Eight smallish electric rotors provide forward propulsion, and they also blow air over the entire span of the wing and its flaps, producing enough extra lift that this thing can take off or touch down at speeds below 30 mph (48 km/h).
That means it can take off or land on a runway as short as 150 ft (45 m), which means there might possibly be urban rooftops or other convenient spaces where this plane can make stops just as easily as an eVTOL.
Why? The benefit here is efficiency. Taking off conventionally on wing lift uses vastly less energy than VTOL operations, so Electra can get extra range out of its flights. The company claims a range of 500 miles (804 km), although it's not fair to compare this range to an eVTOL because this aircraft will use a hybrid powertrain, with a range-extending gas turbine engine constantly topping up the battery.
Electra claims this kind of plane will offer "less than half the operating costs of eVTOL alternatives," and that's a huge claim, since the low projected prices of eVTOL flights are one of the key reasons they're looking like such a disruptive force.
One of the key reasons it could be so cheap is that certification is likely to be much easier; winged airplanes are a known quantity to the FAA, and certifying this one is likely to be a ton cheaper than any of the new VTOLs.
Electra has built a test propulsion system making 150 kW (200 hp). It's planning a two-seat demonstration aircraft for 2022, capable of operating on a 100-ft (30.5 m) runway. The commercial aircraft is slated for type certification around 2026, and will debut with a focus on "urban and regional air mobility markets, sustainability-focused airline operations, 'middle mile' cargo logistics, and air ambulance services."
Agility Prime's Deputy Lead, Major John "Wasp" Tekell, adds, "Agility Prime is excited to partner with Electra on their recent Phase II SBIR contract award. We look forward to exploring the unique capabilities of this design while continuing to accelerate the electric aviation industry."