Plana joins the eVTOL race, with unique-looking 7-seat hybrid air taxi
Korean startup Plana Aero, founded by the guy that led Hyundai/Supernal's early eVTOL program, has begun work on a new long-range, hybrid-electric VTOL air taxi designed to carry up to seven people about 350 miles (500 km) at speeds up to 217 mph (350 km/h).
Plana has just raised billions toward that goal in a pre-series A investment round – some 11.8 billion Korean won, to be precise, which translates to around US$8.3 million, and brings the company's investment total close to $10 million. That's nothing to sneeze at, and should get the company through the build of a half-scale battery-electric prototype aircraft.
The machine in the concept renders has a fairly unique look; its long, thin fuselage sweeps out into an upper main wing, and a knife-thin pair of canards extend from lower down the main tube up front. The propulsion system is a full vectored thrust design, using large, tilting five-blade electric props. Two are mounted to the canards, two at the outer front edges of the main wing, and the third pair sit closer to the fuselage on the trailing edge of the main wing, making the overall layout in hover mode something akin to a hexacopter.
The rear two props tilt downward for VTOL operations, while the rest tilt upward. That's because they're configured as pusher props for cruise mode; if they tilted upwards like the others, they'd have to reverse their rotation during the transition to cruise flight. That's fine for flight dynamics, but on the other hand it places these large props right at a person-mincing height on the ground. Plana doesn't seem too concerned; the front canard props will be chest-high slicer-dicers as well by the looks of things. So I guess we'd best budget for some nice stripey yellow lines on the vertipad.
As a larger, hybrid-powered, long-range, relatively high-speed design, the aircraft looks like a good regional air minibus candidate. Plana will be behind the bleeding edge on this one; many eVTOL companies are working toward a target date of 2024 for commercial certification and entry into service. Plana's roadmap would get a demonstration aircraft built by 2024, and a fully certified machine into production by 2028.
On the one hand, this means Plana will be letting other companies trail-blaze a path through the red tape of certification. Presumably the process will be a bit easier and cheaper by then, with flags in most of the mines along the way. On the other hand, the eVTOL gold rush of 2020-21 appears to be well and truly over, the harsh reality of the challenge is setting in, and while Plana's off to a solid start with a 40-person team, it might find it hard to raise funds toward a brutally expensive certification and production push once there's a few high-profile corpses littering the climb to the summit.
Check out a short concept video below.