Aircraft

Flying bus: Braeden Kelekona elaborates on his staggering 40-seat eVTOL

Flying bus: Braeden Kelekona e...
New York City startup Kelekona is proposing a mass transport-sized eVTOL air bus service capable of carrying 40 people long distances
New York City startup Kelekona is proposing a mass transport-sized eVTOL air bus service capable of carrying 40 people long distances
View 14 Images
New York City startup Kelekona is proposing a mass transport-sized eVTOL air bus service capable of carrying 40 people long distances
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New York City startup Kelekona is proposing a mass transport-sized eVTOL air bus service capable of carrying 40 people long distances
The Kelekona aircraft's entire body is one giant wing
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The Kelekona aircraft's entire body is one giant wing
Heavily tapered back end helps the body shape generate lift at speed
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Heavily tapered back end helps the body shape generate lift at speed
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Huge rear door and ramp make cargo and passenger loading simple
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Huge rear door and ramp make cargo and passenger loading simple
Kelekona wants to skip the scale prototype stage and go straight to a full-sized airframe
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Kelekona wants to skip the scale prototype stage and go straight to a full-sized airframe
The beefiest electric bird in the skies
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The beefiest electric bird in the skies
Kelekona plans to start out in mid-mile cargo applications
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Kelekona plans to start out in mid-mile cargo applications
A New York mass transit approach to the eVTOL sector
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A New York mass transit approach to the eVTOL sector
This aircraft will be some 9 feet tall with its wheels retracted in flight
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This aircraft will be some 9 feet tall with its wheels retracted in flight
Each of the Kelekona's eight ducted fans houses two contra-rotating propellers
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Each of the Kelekona's eight ducted fans houses two contra-rotating propellers
The lifting body will be able to support itself in the air at speeds over about 100mph. Kelekona says its "sweet spot" will be closer to double that speed
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The lifting body will be able to support itself in the air at speeds over about 100mph. Kelekona says its "sweet spot" will be closer to double that speed
Contra-rotating fans provide redundancy at each corner
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Contra-rotating fans provide redundancy at each corner
The entire 2.3 megawatt-hour battery pack is swappable; Kelekona is looking for 15-minute turnarounds at vertipads
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The entire 2.3 megawatt-hour battery pack is swappable; Kelekona is looking for 15-minute turnarounds at vertipads
View gallery - 14 images

eVTOLS, or electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, are a hot topic at the moment. Dozens, even hundreds of companies are working at fever pitch to create the new class of clean, quiet, cheap air taxi that many believe will fundamentally transform our cities in the coming decades. You could be forgiven for getting real tired of hearing about them; we're sprinting hard just to keep up with all the news from the major players lately.

But some designs are so radically different, they stop us in our tracks, and New York startup Kelekona has put forth something so profoundly outrageous that it stands apart from anything else in the space. Where everyone else is building five-seaters with wings, Kelekona is starting out with a freakin' 40-seater that is a wing. Well, a lifting body, anyway. It looks like one of the Thunderbirds.

After covering it a few weeks back, we had to talk to these guys, and we were lucky to get hold of the main man himself. Braeden Kelekona joined us for an extended video chat, in which he talked through this audacious project in detail. And if this thing wasn't already a jaw-dropper, here's a few new nuggets we learned in our interview, in no particular order:

  • It's going to use a 3.6 megawatt-hour battery pack that's fully swappable and can be charged up in less than an hour
  • 80% of its weight – more than 30,000 lb (13,600 kg) by our estimations – will be batteries
  • It will fly 40 passengers or 10,000 pounds of cargo up to 375 miles on a charge, at speeds around 200 mph
  • It will need to be flying at about 100 mph before it can support itself on its lifting body
  • It won't need any exotic new infrastructure; it'll land happily on standard helipads

Oh, and Kelekona isn't planning to mess about building scale prototypes; if he gets the seed funding together, he says he and the team will be building this thing full size and flying it next year.

It's wild stuff. Strap yourself in for an edited transcript below.

Kelekona wants to skip the scale prototype stage and go straight to a full-sized airframe
Kelekona wants to skip the scale prototype stage and go straight to a full-sized airframe

Electric VTOLs! How long have you been working on this project?

Braeden Kelekona: We founded the company in 2019, but I've been working on it for about five years now.

Okay. And where did you come to this from?

So in my past life, I like to say, I was a creative director at an ad agency, and I got my hands on some pretty early drones for cinematography. At the time, there wasn't any infrastructure set up for repairs. And so anytime I would fly them here, whether it was just chipping a prop, or breaking something structural in the carbon fiber, or if debris got into an ESC, I would have to fix it myself. The lead time was six to seven months, to send it in and get it repaired.

So, having a love for engineering, I just kind of jumped into the forums and started to learn more about the tech, and realized that the mechanics were pretty straightforward, pretty elegant in their simplicity, and I realized that there was a great opportunity for it to be scaled up, and I didn't really understand why no-one in the space was taking it seriously. To do that, I started to do a lot of research and decided to make the jump. And yeah, founded the company in 2019.

And did you straightaway come up with the approach that you've that you've gone to with these giant, massive airship kind of designs?

So, initially it was similar to a lot of the eVTOLs that you see in the space now, more catered towards a maximum of five passengers. And that was the simplest thing that I could think of. I remember very clearly I was about a year into it and I saw Ehang, the 186 came out. I kind of had that feeling like, oh man I'm not crazy! Because I hadn't seen anyone come up with anything, you know, for the market at least. And being from New York City, it's ingrained in us as New Yorkers, we take public transit everywhere. We have an amazing subway system. The buses are great, ferries are great.

And so it never made sense to take the approach of, you know, a handful of people at a time. Also, this island here, we're not like Australia, it's very small, and so our airspace is also very small. So it didn't make sense to have a swarm of these things in the air. Let's try to move the most people, as efficiently as possible. I started to look into airframes more, and started to ask the question how do we build a flying battery? Versus just trying to figure out how to build something interesting that looks cool, and that can fit a few people, and then we'll figure out how to fit the battery into it. We start with a battery first, and I think that's what shaped our design.

And were you working alone at this stage or getting a team involved?

Yeah, so 2019 is when I started to put together the team. I don't know if you saw the video, I'm introducing some of the team members, but yes, slowly started to build a team, and we have a very diverse team. They all come from different backgrounds, one of Engineers has a background at Tesla, so it was interesting to be able to talk about the battery tech that she worked on there, and especially taking this flying battery approach.

The entire 2.3 megawatt-hour battery pack is swappable; Kelekona is looking for 15-minute turnarounds at vertipads
The entire 2.3 megawatt-hour battery pack is swappable; Kelekona is looking for 15-minute turnarounds at vertipads

So you've gone with something similar to what a lot of the car companies are doing, almost a skateboard chassis kind of idea. That's where the whole under-floor is your battery pack. I really struggled to get a sense of the scale of these aircraft. What are we talking about in terms of a battery to lift 40 people?

First, I read your article by the way, a great article, I think your humor really comes through in the writing, which I appreciate. So we started with power, we're starting out with a 3.6 megawatt hour pack, so we have a ton of energy to spend. And one thing that I wanted to point out in your article is that, I think it's easy to look at the battery and say, okay, how are you going to charge that all in one go? So it was important to us from the beginning to break up the battery.

So don't look at it as just one pack but instead, inside it's made up of modules which are made up into bricks and so our modules go to eight different fans, and those fans have independent BLDC motors. So when we're charging our pack it's not one, you know, into the wall kind of thing. We're charging individual modules, so we're able to charge the battery relatively quickly, instead of having to wait until that one thing charges off of one plug.

3.6 megawatt-hours! What battery packs exist out there that are currently operating at that scale?

I think, as far as in transportation, we're not aware of any. It'll be interesting to see some of the specs with Nikola Motors and Tesla Semis and things like that, but I think right now it's generally toward industrial battery packs for energy storage like large scale battery storage. So, yeah, I think we're the first in this space to go after something so aggressive.

Hmm, yeah, it boggles the mind. Is it going to stress the power grid if you want to charge something like that rapidly. You almost need to ring the power station and say "hey guys, get another turbine running!"

Yeah. So, going back to the analogy with a pack, it's easy to think "how are we going to charge this one pack all in one go?" Instead, you can think of it as a small parking lot of Tesla P100s, right? We're charging multiple packs, or multiple batteries within our pack. So the infrastructure is there, it's not anything that out of the ordinary, but yeah it's a lot of power.

Really! How long will it take to charge that entire thing?

The goal is to charge it in under an hour.

Jesus!

I can't get too much into it right now, but the way the battery charges, we're charging individual modules, so there's multiple ins and outs on the charging station, it's just one cord.

Right, but there is going to have to be one 3.6-megawatt cord going from the facility back out to the grid, you know... 3.6 megawatt hours in an hour. Holy moly, that's wild. And with a battery that large, what are the range figures that you're expecting with a fully loaded passenger compartment?

Sure yeah, so our max payload is 10,000 pounds. We're currently focused on cargo operations. So, that's something we can talk about later, but as far as passengers as you're aware, it's 40 passengers plus pilot, and as far as range, we're looking at up to 350-375 miles. Going back to the cargo, we're focusing on the mid-mile sector in global logistics, and so we're trying to hit this sweet spot.

I should say this: we use an algorithm to test out our simulations, and we've been testing the max performance and so we've been pushing the aircraft up to 350 miles an hour and beyond, to see what type of data we'd get back. And since we've been working in this cargo sector, they're not as pressed on time. So we're looking for more than 200-250 mile an hour flight speed, and about a 300 mile range.

The Kelekona aircraft's entire body is one giant wing
The Kelekona aircraft's entire body is one giant wing

That's still significantly more than any of the passenger eVTOLs, both in terms of the speed and the distance there. So the aerodynamics of these flying wing things, how fast you have to be going before it can support itself?

Sure, yeah, so going back to the flying battery approach, we had to figure out what's the best way to optimize this huge pack, right? So we decided to go with what's known as a lifting body. And I would say at about 100 miles an hour, you're getting enough lift in forward flight to support the entire airframe, but going back again to that 200 mph mark, that's really our sweet spot. You want to get lift but you also don't want too much drag.

Right, 100 miles an hour. So that means that the aircraft has to support itself on partially downward vectored thrust, until you reach 100 miles an hour. How long is that going to take?

That's a great question. I don't know how long that'll take in seconds, we're going to ramp up to 200 miles an hour, to that sweet spot. But our greatest energy moment, similar to anyone else in the space, is that takeoff, as you mentioned, and so getting to that forward flight as quick as possible is very important.

Hmm, so I guess that's why you're prioritizing these longer range trips because you want to spend as long as possible in that in that supported cruise mode.

Gliding.

Right. So can you talk us through the decision made to go with this style of body? Because no one else that I'm aware of in this space is proposing anything like it.

So, again, it's all about the flying battery. We set out to have a battery to total weight ratio greater than 70 percent. Something that I don't think you'll find in this space.

So more than 70 percent of the weight of the airframe is batteries?

Yes. So I think that's something unique you'll find with our aircraft. A lot of the other competitors have been shy to talk about their pack and just how much power, and how much their batteries weigh. It'll be interesting to see just how far some of these actual ranges will be versus their estimates. It's important; we're all playing by the same rules as far as battery density right now. So yeah, we set out to use the most battery power that we could. So for example, Impossible Aerospace. I'm not sure if you're familiar with them. They've been sold. I'm not sure if they're still operating, does that ring a bell?

Impossible Aerospace's US-1 drone can fly for up 120 minutes per charge without carrying a payload, which reduces to a still significant 78 minutes with a 1.3 kg payload
Impossible Aerospace's US-1 drone can fly for up 120 minutes per charge without carrying a payload, which reduces to a still significant 78 minutes with a 1.3 kg payload

No, let me just bring it up.

Sure. So they were a smaller quadcopter company focused on military and maybe police. Their whole mission was "how do we create a flying battery?" They integrated their batteries into their quad. The guy, I'm blanking on his name, but he was also from Tesla and worked on those skateboard chassis, as you mentioned. But the whole idea here is "how do we get the batteries to fly," not "how do we get people to fly" or "how do we get cargo to fly?"

And so by taking that approach, most quads in their class they get what, 20 minutes, 30 minutes max? Impossible was getting I think up to two hours at one point. And so when you focus on your batteries and getting those to fly you can do a lot more in terms of performance.

Okay so that was the starting point, and then how did you arrive at the design?

There's a twofold thing there, So creating as large a pack as possible, and for us, stretching that out over a wide airframe. So naturally what came into our mind was the lifting body. Lifting body got popular back in the 1920s with an engineer named Vincent Brunelli, who came up with a lot of interesting aircraft. More recently, there's the Dream Chaser by Sierra Nevada Corporation, it's touted to be the new space shuttle. So yeah, we decided to build the biggest battery that we could, and to be able to do that, we put it in a lifting body aircraft, but also it was important for us to have access to that battery, for it to be swappable when we're flying hub to hub.

Okay, so we've had a few questions in in the comments section about control surfaces and things like that. That's something that I didn't really get into, but it does seem from your video that there are some control surfaces on that wing. Can you talk us through what what's possible there?

Sure, yeah, so the tail is a swept back. We have elevons in the back that are able to help with the tilt of the aircraft. We also have obviously the thrust vectoring fans, but the elevons help with stability and the forward flight transition.

How big are these fans gonna be? I struggled to put the size of this thing into context, looking at the renders, so maybe let's talk about the dimensions and how big those fans need to be.

Yeah, I'm glad you brought that up, it's another thing that I wanted to point out in your article. So the aircraft itself is just under 45 feet in diameter. So, it fits on a standard helipad. We have three heliports here in Manhattan, East Side, West Side and Downtown, so it was really important for us to be able to still fit on a standard helipad.

Which kind? There's h1, h2, h3 rated helipads ... So this fits on the smallest?

Not the smallest, no. I'll have to get back to you on which rating that is but, yeah, it's very common. Maybe it's H4? It's 44 feet in diameter.

A standard helipad! 40 passengers boarding an aircraft that sits on a single helipad!

Yeah vertical takeoff is important. Yeah. So in terms of a comparison, I believe Beta's aircraft, their eVTOL has a similar sort of diameter. Obviously, they're more of a fixed wing, but yes, we'll still fit on a helipad.

The beefiest electric bird in the skies
The beefiest electric bird in the skies

Holy moly. So 45 feet in diameter. Can you can you put that into context? Is it as big as a bus?

It's got a 12-foot wide cargo door. So that ramp that opens up, it's 12 feet wide, so it allows for very efficient egress and ingress, and also what's important is that cargo, it helps with really streamlining mid-mile logistics.

Right, yeah. So, just in terms putting this aircraft into some dimensions that people can understand, is there is there anything comparable size-wise that that would help people contextualize it?

I guess a Sikorsky S-72 or some of your larger helicopters, as far as the rotor dimensions. But yeah, a lot of people like to refer to it as a flying bus. It's not quite that large, depending on what city you're in. But still compact enough to fit on a helipad.

Okay so how tall is it?

Without the wheels, in flight, it's about nine feet tall.

All right, so that would mean your rotors are roughly half that height in diameter?

We're currently playing with some optimization there, but we can't talk about that right now.

Yep, no worries. And you've gone with ducted fans. Can you talk about that a little?

Sure, yeah. So one of the biggest things that I think everyone kind of worries about is how loud are these eVTOL things going to be. The ducted fan not only helps with efficiency, but it also keeps the noise down. When you have an open rotor, you get a lot of noise, and when you duct the fan, you're not only directing that propulsion, which is important for any VTOL, but you're also mitigating that sound of the rotor.

Hmm, okay. Do you have a sense for how loud these will be? Is that possible in simulations?

Yes, it's hard to tell in simulations, but we're very confident, just like everyone else, that will be quieter than a helicopter and most combustion powered aircraft.

Kelekona plans to start out in mid-mile cargo applications
Kelekona plans to start out in mid-mile cargo applications

So cargo, I note that you have spent a lot of time on the website breaking down how logistics companies might use this thing. What size standard shipping containers you can use and things like that. And with a wide ramp, it should be reasonably quick to to get this stuff loaded and unloaded. What else do you want to talk about in terms of cargo?

Sure, yeah. It's where we're focused on right now. It's what's going to bring in revenue the quickest as far as the FAA certification process. We're allowed to fly with cargo now, they're not ready for passenger transportation until – well, they're saying 2024, but I think that's optimistic.

Our cargo customers, they want a new way to approach what's known as a feeder aircraft. And so, we're helping them replace their feeder aircraft in that mid-mile sector. So traditionally what they'd do is have a 777 or 737 come with cargo, and they'd have to offload it onto a feeder aircraft and then that would have to fly to a hub, and they'd have to repeat the process. Being a VTOL, and being able to hold more than a feeder aircraft, we're able to fly hub to hub for them and really streamline that process.

Also, going back to that mass transit approach. I think it's important to note that having that ramp is the most efficient way to move people, especially a wide range of people. Not everyone can climb into an aircraft, especially if you're disabled or elderly, it's hard to climb up into an aircraft. So making that as easy as possible helps with customer satisfaction but also turnaround time – that's the biggest thing, you want to be able to touch down and get up and move forward to your next mission as quick as possible.

Yeah, what's your what's your target turnaround time between, between landing and taking off again?

Imagine the eVTOL landing, people getting out of their seats, moving into either the lounge, or into the heliport. During that time, we'll be able to swap out the battery. So we believe that we'll be able to turn around the aircraft in under 15 minutes.

I want to pick up on something that you mentioned before in terms of certification, that 2024 sounds ambitious. Obviously there's companies out there with quite a lot of test flights under their belts – Joby springs to mind as a company that's been working on this for 10 years now, they're pretty advanced. It's hard to say where they are in their in the certification process because a lot of this stuff isn't public, but they're certainly working very closely with the FAA at this point. Why do you feel 2024 is optimistic, and do you have a sense for what might be a more realistic date?

Don't get me wrong, I hope that 2024 is the go date, I think we all are hoping that, but we also all remember when it was supposed to be this year, then next yeah is when passenger operations was supposed to be. Obviously, that didn't happen and things got held up, but moving passengers is a lot more complicated than moving cargo. But my hope, like all of us, is that in 2024 we're all ready to go, and for us, it's important to start proving our proof of concept, getting that safety and reliability by moving cargo, so by the time they're ready to start the passenger services, we'll be ready to transition over.

Gotcha. Safety's got to be front of mind when you're dealing with passengers, I mean, these things have to be faultless. And I keep running into this one problem over and over, which is that you've got this zone between takeoff and some non-trivial height, where there's really nothing you can do in the case of total failure. Obviously as a drone pilot, you'd have seen a lot of these things kind of tumbling and falling out of the sky for all sorts of reasons – electromagnetic interference or gremlins or whatever. And everyone in this space is saying they'll run separate battery packs, separate propulsion systems, multiple flight controllers. They can't control the consequences of an incident, so the effort is to reduce the probability down to that ten to the power of minus nine everyone keeps coming back to. One in a billion.

But dynamically these aircraft are different to anything in the sky right now. Planes can glide, helicopters can autorotate, and there's at least some chance of dynamically saving a crash from a certain height. Are you aware of anything that can get past this issue? We've been calling it the death zone, which probably isn't helpful, but do you have any insight on technological solutions to that?

I think the key thing to summarize everything is redundancy, and that's what the FAA wants to see. They want to see, not if something happens, but when this happens, what are you going to be able to do? So it's independent motors, it's independent battery modules, independent avionics. All the above, but also environmental awareness. I think that's a huge thing, and that's beyond what you're dubbing the death zone, but I think that's very important, situational awareness when you're in the air. But yeah it all comes back down to that. You have to be realistic, we hope that nothing ever goes wrong, but that's not realistic. And it's all about just trying to mitigate risk, the best way possible.

A New York mass transit approach to the eVTOL sector
A New York mass transit approach to the eVTOL sector

You're alluding to the sensor systems that you've written about on your website, which again I didn't really spend too much time covering in the piece we wrote, but maybe talk us through how this things sees the world and what that allows it to do.

Yeah, it's something that we pride ourselves on, having the optical sensors that we do and we're really working on that software. We'll run optical sensors, some ultrasonic sensors, we also have dual radar system, and being a larger eVTOL and using that composite shell, we're able to do some interesting things there. I can't get too far into it because I know that's a pretty hot topic in and of itself, but yeah, it all comes back to safety and redundancy, and being able to know your environment, see your environment and to detect and avoid.

Gotcha. And so in your website you speak about 100 miles of environmental awareness? So this is a this is a long range radar?

Yeah, It's long range radar. There's two systems, there's one of the top of the aircraft and one on the bottom. And then also we have two telephoto lenses in the front of the aircraft that can see pretty far, those are two things that we are not seeing in other aircraft. I think others will follow. But, yeah, combining those two gives us up to 100 miles of range.

What, so you'll be traveling at close to 200 miles an hour in the sky for efficiency. Bird comes along. How the hell are you going to dodge a bird at that speed with an aircraft that heavy?

That's where that 100 miles comes in, so we want to be able to see the bird, way before it gets too close to the aircraft. And so, God forbid, if a bird does hit a fan, that's when that redundancy comes in. So we have contra-rotating propellers, and then each of those propellers are on their own BLDC motor, and so we're able to safely get back to the ground in case of a bird strike.

When you say contra rotating propellers, do mean you have two in each propulsion pod?

So in each fan, there's one that rotates clockwise and one that rotates counterclockwise.

Does that mess with airflow?

No it doesn't. There's a lot of arguments out there about the pros and cons, but we what we love about it is it gives us the propulsion for the flight programs we need, but it also helps with that redundancy. Having two props in each fan in case one motor goes out.

Contra-rotating fans provide redundancy at each corner
Contra-rotating fans provide redundancy at each corner

So it's not an eight fan system, it's a 16 fan system. And they're all pretty big. So 10,000 10,000 pounds of cargo, plus the airframe, what's the takeoff weight?

Sure, that's not something we can talk about right now. But yeah, the batteries will make up about 80% of the total weight. So, I'll let you do the math on that.

Roger that. In your assumptions, what what sort of specific energy are you planning around?

I can't go too much into the propulsion. I know that's a fun question to ask, but I can't talk much about that.

Okay, I mean obviously you know the Model 3 battery pack, that's the one I keep on comparing things back to, they're sitting at around 260 Watt hours per kilogram or something like that, which seems to be the best the commercial world can can rock with at the moment. I just want a sense of whether you're working on today's battery figures or tomorrow's?

No, very much today's. I can confirm that we're not building any batteries in-house right now, we're using existing batteries from manufacturers.

So I guess when it comes to the takeoff weight, even if we don't talk about specific figures, it's big, and it's heavy. And so it'll need a lot of push to lift it off the ground. Are these going to put more pressure on on ground infrastructure, just due to their monster size?

Sure, yeah, it's definitely heavier than most helicopters, but lighter than your standard jetliner. So, as far as sitting on an apron or a helipad. It's the, the infrastructure isn't anything special.

Hmm, okay. So where are you guys at right now? You've made a public debut, obviously this is an insanely challenging space to get to get something up and running in. You're gonna need a ton of money to make it happen. Where are you guys at in terms of prototyping and fundraising and all of the things you'll need to do, to get this off the ground?

Yeah. So, we took a different approach, like everything else we've been doing. We decided to go with simulation first. We went heavy with simulation, and really dialed in the performance that we needed for the flight programs with our cargo customers. So having a pretty good idea of what type of thrust we're going to need out of the fans, how much battery power we're draining per flight program in takeoff, forward flight and landing.

Now we're ready to build a scale prototype. It will be a full scale airframe. We're still playing around with the battery specs, we're starting at 3.6 megawatt hours, it might go up a little bit. But yeah, we're currently raising our seed round, and we hope to close that out by mid-next month, and then start working on a full scale prototype.

You... Are starting with a full scale prototype... Of the biggest eVTOL that's ever been even spoken about... By a factor of many... Using a body concept nobody else has tested and proven... You're not going to build a little one first?

(Laughs) Well we have built sub-scale components but no, it didn't make sense to us to build a scale model of the aircraft for many reasons, but yeah we've dialed into data and we're ready to build our aircraft to scale.

Each of the Kelekona's eight ducted fans houses two contra-rotating propellers
Each of the Kelekona's eight ducted fans houses two contra-rotating propellers

Dear god, man. Okay. Wow, that boggles my mind. That's not small. That's not small. Am I over-complicating things in my head? How much more difficult is it to build a full scale than a smaller one.

In our minds, it would be harder to build a scaled version of our aircraft, then do flight tests, then get data back that we have to try to translate to full scale. We're building a giant wing, essentially, that's what a lifting body is, so the data there is different when you're talking about a sub-scale model or full scale. There's interesting things you can do with scaled fans, scaled energy storage, and energy draw and things like that. But if you really want to dial in performance of your aircraft as a whole, you have to build the large airframe.

So it goes without saying, getting even a five-seater full size prototype built is is expensive and difficult. What sort of bonus multiplier do you guys have to work with? I mean, just the cost of buying a battery pack that big... You're not talking about ripping a pack out of a Tesla to go testing with at that scale!

Right. The most expensive part of the process is the battery. We're buying a lot of cells, and those cells need to be tested, they need to be wire-bonded, packed into bricks, into modules, into the full pack, and it makes up a significant part of our weight. We really do mean that we're building a flying battery, and then putting things on top of that battery.

So, how much money do you need?

Yeah, quite a lot! So let me know if you like to contribute! (laughs) Just kidding.

I can check between the couch cushions, see what I've got in there!

We're working with some great firms here in the city, some venture capital firms that are proud New Yorkers. We're excited to release, you know the amount that we repeat.

Okay, good luck with that! It's a space that's starting to feel crowded. But I think the approach that you guys are taking is so vastly different... Hopefully you can find people with the vision and the long term appetite. I guess the returns on investment must be... Like even in traditional aerospace, it takes ages to develop an aircraft, ages to test it, unbelievable amounts of money to certify it, and then to produce it, and then you start making some revenue... It is a big ask! But it does seem that there is some appetite in this space, just because everybody wants to see it happen. I think universally we would love to get out of traffic. So, in terms of timelines?

Within a couple of months we'll be able to close this round and we'll be starting to build. Maybe you can come out and visit the hangar and watch it all go up.

Well it feels like a long time until I'll be traveling anywhere at this point. But that would be awesome. So, assuming everything goes fine with the fundraising, which is obviously what you're really focused on right now, but should you raise the right amount of money, what does the build timeline look like?

We hope to have our full scale eVTOL flying and demonstrating next year.

Wow. I guess I keep on coming back to the to the Joby example. I'm not sure how long it took those guys to get a bird in the air, but they had the additional difficulty of being so far ahead of the game that I'm sure they would have been inventing more from scratch than you guys would coming in later. But to get something this size flying in 2022 would be absolutely remarkable. What's the setup as it stands, you've got a team of how many?

Ten.

Ten people. And facilities? Or does that need to wait til you've got the money together?

No, we have a few hangar options right now. We've been looking at one in Long Island, where a customer is courting us to use one of their hangars, there's not too much I can say about that right now but they're all over the US. So, for infrastructure, capital's not really like the big issue. We're excited to get into a hangar space and start this. It's really just the batteries, and the manufacturing equipment and things like that.

I do want to stress one point though, that you said earlier: one thing that we like to remind people is that we're not building, or creating anything new. This is definitely props to the engineering team – it's all tech that's existing and that's very familiar to our team. We're not trying to reinvent the wheel. We're not trying to create a new battery system. These are all things that have been tried and tested, it's just putting it together in a novel way. So we obviously have great confidence in this, or we wouldn't be doing it. But yeah, it's very different. It's very different from everyone else in the space. We like to think that's for a reason.

I did note you're speaking about using aluminum in the construction as well as composites. That would seem to be a break from what the rest of the space are doing as well, right? Everybody else wants to make all-carbon everything?

Yeah, it's too time intensive, and it's very difficult to manufacture at scale, as far as carbon goes, if you're doing all molds and scaling up. So what we what we aim to do is essentially taking aluminum sheets, CNC routing those to create the rim of the airframe, and then we're using composite, from a large-volume 3d printer to create the skin and panels. So it's what's known as a semi-monocoque frame. And so the outside is not only impact-resistant, but it actually puts a structural skin around the aluminum frame, or skeleton ribcage.

Right. Is 3D composite printing there at this point?

100%.

How big are the pieces?

About five feet by five feet. The panels can be up to those dimensions. We print those dimensions, process them and then fix them across the aluminum.

This aircraft will be some 9 feet tall with its wheels retracted in flight
This aircraft will be some 9 feet tall with its wheels retracted in flight

Yeah, gotcha. Very cool. Now, I've got an email here from a buddy who always has plenty to say whenever I cover an eVTOL.

What's his name?

Dezso Molnar.

Shout out to Dezso!

He's a flying motorcycle guy, ex-Spirit of America land-speed crew captain, X-prize judge, jet pilot... A very remarkable individual. He saw the original story, and he wants to clarify whether there's going to be some lighter than air gas in here, like an airship?

No, nothing like that.

Right, right, so it's purely eVTOL, there's no additional lift from from gases. Yeah, cool. Alrighty. So finally, the military stuff. Have you started down that path, are you having discussions with the DOD?

The Air Force's program is called Agility Prime. They have their own certification process and they're being very aggressive in wanting to not only move cargo but passengers, and they have their own certification process to do that. So with the FAA they're currently hoping it's 2024, but with Agility Prime it's much sooner. So yeah, we're engaged in conversation with them and hope to share that information with you soon

We thank Braeden Kelekona for his time and wish the team every success in bringing this project to fruition – mainly because watching this thing take off will be absolutely epic. Check out a video below.

A different class of eVTOL

Source: Kelekona

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9 comments
9 comments
Gabor Pauler
Editors should launch a competition among Photoshop-manufactured eVTOLS, who is proposing to lift largest MTOW with the smallest-ever cup-like thrusters with the lift efficiency less than 0.5lbs/KW...
vince
Make it rounder and voila there you have your UFO. Even ad is people around the world will mistakenly report the bus as a UFO.
vince
Imagine if you will the range of this thing if Lithium Metal batteries become a reality. It could fly coast to coast with a 3000 mile range.
anthony88
Military applications? Like as a large slow-moving, short-range, easy-to-hit target for beginner pilots in prop-driven training aircraft?
2Hedz
L.O.L. can't say much more
vince
Going to be a lot more UFO sightings once these are in the air. Shape is very UFO like.
paleochocolate
Pardon my skepticism but 80% weight on batteries alone is insane.

Why not use fossil fuels instead??

Or at least use a hydrogen fuel cell.
windykites
How much lighter would it be to use regular piston engines, than electric motors with enormously heavy batteries? I know we are phasing out ICE, but still worth considering.

I am a fan (lol) of autogyros, which are STOL, but do have advantages.
Arcticshade
@palechocolate

Because fossil fuels are dirty why who would've thunk it DOH ! Also ICE engines are heavy and slow to react, it's like trying to put a steam locomotive into a fighter jet.

@windykyte

ya the batteries are heavy, but we have to phase out ICE's and continue to improve batteries/capacitors/fuel cells, even gyro's will be electric only in future.