Supernal unveils its second-gen eVTOL air taxi at CES
Hyundai's electric aircraft spinout has presented the eVTOL air taxi design it believes will "set the gold standard for Advanced Air Mobility." Supernal pulled the covers off its handsome S-A2 prototype at CES, built on a new airframe architecture.
Supernal has some enormous advantages over most of the leaders in the eVTOL field; it's a subsidiary of an automotive colossus with massive revenue and well-established capabilities in huge volume manufacturing. But despite a 600-person team, it doesn't seem to be working at the pace of startups like Joby, Lilium or Archer.
While these companies say they're aiming to get aircraft certified and into commercial service by 2025 (or 2026 in Lilium's case), Supernal doesn't expect to be up and running until 2028, and still hasn't flown a full-scale prototype; the team hopes to get that happening sometime this year. But there could be advantages to moving slowly, particularly in a field like this, where regulations are still under negotiation and there's plenty of uncertainty.
Either way, four years after the S-A1, the first Hyundai/Uber eVTOL design dropped at CES 2020, here's the new five-seat hotness the company is advancing toward a production model.
The S-A2 simplifies the original machine's airframe somewhat; where the S-A1 used a mishmash of tilting props and stationary lift props distributed across propulsion pods on its wings and at the tips of its V-tail, the new aircraft drops the tail props altogether, and instead uses eight tilting rotors, all hanging from pods on the wings.
The front ones tilt upward, the rear ones tilt downward, so that as they move toward horizontal for cruise flight, the front row becomes puller props and the rear becomes pushers. I do wonder how this "kinetic purism" affects efficiency, since the entire back row of props will receive accelerated backwash from the forward props, but I'm sure these guys have done their math.
Top speed is a little disappointing at 120 mph (~200 km/h), and range appears to be a lot disappointing; Supernal doesn't make an outright range claim, but says the aircraft is designed for short cross-town hops of no more than 40 miles (64 km). It claims the noise on vertical takeoff will be around 65 dB – the level of a dishwasher.
The cabin silhouette could probably be mistaken for Archer's Midnight design: a snub-nosed thing with landing gear under the nose and extending back behind the wing for a three-point footprint. The four passengers in the back will get large upper and lower windows for sightseeing, and the pilot will be able to see a fair bit of the landing pad on approach, although mainly out to the sides.
“From here, we will develop this concept into a revolutionary commercial product,” says Supernal CTO Ben Diachun in a press release. "Revolutionary" feels a tad optimistic for a design scheduled to hit the market three years after the leaders, with a greatly reduced maximum range – but Supernal could absolutely become a major player in the eVTOL field, and the accelerated timelines of competitors may well yet be foiled by the brutal grind and endless red tape of the certification process.
You can watch a fairly brutal launch presentation below.