Aircraft

Talyn's detachable lift system: A radically different eVTOL aircraft

Talyn's detachable lift system...
Talyn's autonomous Lift vehicle has its own glider-style wing and pusher props, allowing it to rendezvous with the Cruise vehicle
Talyn's autonomous Lift vehicle has its own glider-style wing and pusher props, allowing it to rendezvous with the Cruise vehicle
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Talyn's autonomous Lift vehicle has its own glider-style wing and pusher props, allowing it to rendezvous with the Cruise vehicle
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Talyn's autonomous Lift vehicle has its own glider-style wing and pusher props, allowing it to rendezvous with the Cruise vehicle
eVTOL startup Talyn takes a radically different approach to the air taxi challenge
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eVTOL startup Talyn takes a radically different approach to the air taxi challenge
The autonomous Lift vehicle has two pusher props, eight lift rotors mounted as four coaxial groups, and a thin glider wing
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The autonomous Lift vehicle has two pusher props, eight lift rotors mounted as four coaxial groups, and a thin glider wing
The Cruise vehicle is basically a fixed-wing electric plane, whose battery starts at 100 percent charge after VTOL launch
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The Cruise vehicle is basically a fixed-wing electric plane, whose battery starts at 100 percent charge after VTOL launch
The Lift vehicle attaches to the top of the Cruise vehicle for the start and end of a journey, then returns to the pad to recharge between operations
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The Lift vehicle attaches to the top of the Cruise vehicle for the start and end of a journey, then returns to the pad to recharge between operations
Having your cake and eating it too: VTOL convenience with fixed-wing range
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Having your cake and eating it too: VTOL convenience with fixed-wing range
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The biggest problem with electric VTOL aircraft is the VTOL system. It's a pain. The world-changing convenience of vertical lift systems comes with a high price tag: they weigh a heap, particularly because VTOL sucks up so much energy that you need a huge battery.

And they're a pain once you're flying horizontally, too; vertical propeller arrangements add drag to your airframe design, reducing point-to-point range and limiting your top speed. Joby Aviation solves this problem by tilting all its rotors forward – but if you were designing a plane just for the horizontal phase of flight, you'd only use one prop for optimal efficiency. Others fold their props up, or duct them into the wings and cover them over, but Talyn Air offers a different solution altogether that flat-out ditches them when they're not needed.

Founded by a pair of ex-SpaceX Falcon 9 engineers, one of whom also worked on prototype airplanes for Scaled Composites, Talyn proposes a radically new approach to the eVTOL problem: a simple, high-speed, long-range electric plane that gains eVTOL capabilities thanks to a detachable vertical lift platform.

The idea is simple enough: a VTOL system that's only there when you need it. Talyn's Lift vehicle, with its eight large rotors mounted in four coaxial pairs, attaches to the top of the Cruise vehicle for takeoff. With its own battery reserve, it lifts the Cruise vehicle up and gets it up to a speed where the Cruise vehicle's wing and pusher prop can take over, whereupon the two aircraft separate and the Lift vehicle flies back to base.

The Lift vehicle attaches to the top of the Cruise vehicle for the start and end of a journey, then returns to the pad to recharge between operations
The Lift vehicle attaches to the top of the Cruise vehicle for the start and end of a journey, then returns to the pad to recharge between operations

There, it's free to recharge the large amount of energy it's just spent while the Cruise vehicle flies on, carrying five passengers over 300 miles at 200 mph (322 km/h). For reference, that's the same top speed Joby is promising, but with double the range. At the other end, you can either land the Cruise vehicle like the fixed-wing plane it is or, if you're headed to another Talyn vertiport, you can rendezvous with another VTOL Lift vehicle to take you down on a landing pad.

In order to chase and hook up with the Cruise plane, the Lift vehicles have their own glider-style wings and a pair of pusher props to get them up to speed. It's a clever way of putting the Cruise vehicle in the air and getting it up to speed with a 100 percent full battery, as well as giving the Lift vehicles extra time on the chargers to recoup the big energy hit of a vertical takeoff or landing operation.

Of course, this approach has its own challenges, and some beefy ones at that. The rendezvous operation will be difficult. The link between the two vehicles will need to be simple enough that it can attach mid-air, yet strong enough to lift an electric plane and five people off the ground, and also aerodynamically negligible. The flight control dynamics of the transition between vertical and horizontal flight here will be a lot more complex.

The autonomous Lift vehicle has two pusher props, eight lift rotors mounted as four coaxial groups, and a thin glider wing
The autonomous Lift vehicle has two pusher props, eight lift rotors mounted as four coaxial groups, and a thin glider wing

Not to mention, one of the key hurdles for any eVTOL startup – the certification process – is going to be a lot harder for Talyn than anyone else. That's not just because it'll need to certify two aircraft instead of one, including completely unique mid-air docking and release sequences, but also because the Lift vehicle will have to be autonomous. Right now, every other eVTOL startup is planning to hit the market with a pilot on board and eventually move to autonomous flight once the sluggish bulk of international aviation authorities have worked out how to allow it.

So Talyn has chosen a highly technical and challenging path to market – but at the end of the process, if it gets built it'll offer a fairly compelling blend of eVTOL convenience and flexibility with impressive inter-city range nobody else in the space can touch without resorting to dinosaur-burning hybrid systems or hydrogen fuel cells. And there are surely other benefits as well; that detachable lift system could just as easily shift a pallet of cargo a short distance in its downtime, for example.

A fascinating approach for sure, and we look forward to learning more.

Source: Talyn Air

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14 comments
14 comments
Peter S
This is quite funny, I actually thought of a very similar concept fairly recently. Although without VTOL or rendezvous, I was rather thinking about how you could take maximum advantage of the fact that battery powered aircraft don't need oxygen by flying efficiently at very high altitudes. Since just the climb would require lots of energy and power it seemed reasonable to have a "climb module" that could then detach and return to base while the cruise part of aircraft continues to it's destination.

This concept seems a bit insane though since it needs aerial rendezvous. Doing that reliably in anything but perfect weather would be quite challenging to put it mildly.
CAVUMark
Not for me, thanks. Twice the number of systems for twice the range. A lot of moving parts....
VincentWolf
Absolutely fascinating concept. Never would have thought of this myself. Too engrained in old ways I guess.
dan
@Vincent, no worries, you may prefer simpler and safer systems. some engineers need these concepts to get to a practical solution. It is easy to make life (or technology) complicated, but it is difficult to make it simple. At the end the market will go for a simple solution as this one likely will be more reliable and cheaper. These engineers - facing the insufficiency of battery power in eVTOLs - ADD COMPLEXITY with the absolutely need of an in-air-rendevouz... Please engineers, get back to simple and practical solutions and then they will be affordable, light and therefore more eco-friendly!
David
Very nifty. Just a bit surprised Gerry Anderson never thought of it. ;-)
riczero-b
Interesting concept, I hate to add more complexity but the launch vehicle could have a power tether?
JB
This configuration of a mothership and a cruise vehicle essentially copies the WhiteKnight/SpaceShip setup that Scaled Composites (in partnership with Paul Allen) used to win the Ansari XPrize. Seems to me that it would be appropriate in this article give a nod to Scaled (beyond mentioning the one person on the Talyn team who formerly worked at Scaled) and specifically to Burt Rutan. Or maybe the editors were thinking: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so why mention the phenomenal precedent project by Scaled? All of the insiders will understand, anyway. Right?
Catweazle
Imagine we's spent the last century developing flying machines driven by a power source with an energy density typically of 200 - 300 kWh per kilogram and someone came up with a power source that yielded 12,000 - 13,000 kWh per kilogram (twice that actually, as running it full to empty means it only carries half its total fuel on average).
What a break-through that would be!
jsopr
Like I'm sure others have envisioned, my version from a decade was just to have a lifter connected via a power cable to the ground. No batteries needed at all
sam12
What we need is an airport, by that I mean a port in the air.
It can be a giant airship, winching a plane vertically and dropping it. As the plane gathers momentum, it will come out of the dive into horizontal flight. How do it lands? Just as simple, it flies below the ‘air port’ and climb up while throttling down. A grabber on the port will catch the hovering plane by the nose. The nose might have a electric inducted magnetic loop or something to grab hold of. Propellers are on wing or pusher on the rear, it cannot be on the nose. The plane can then be gently lowered to the ground.