Trifan 600 long-range, high-speed hybrid VTOL promises takeoff in 2024
XTI Aircraft is moving toward production of the "fastest and longest-range VTOL in the world," with certification and the start of full-scale production expected by the end of 2024. The Trifan 600 will fly up to eight passengers helipad to helipad at ranges up to 750 miles (1,200 km) and impressive speeds up to 345 mph (555 km/h).
These dream figures would indeed dominate the electric VTOL space; the range alone is seven times higher than what most urban eVTOLs promise – but then XTI isn't a pure eVTOL. Instead of a simple battery-electric powertrain, it will run a hybrid system, using high-powered batteries to manage takeoff and landing, but running a GE catalyst turboprop engine as a range-extending generator to deliver its enormous range figure.
So it might be the fastest and longest-range VTOL running on all-electric propulsion, but if we open the field up to include fossil fuels, well, the Soviets had VTOL "Yak" fighters operating 50 years ago flying longer ranges at transonic speeds.
Either way, XTI has just entered a joint venture with new aerospace holding and operating company Xeriant, with a view to getting this thing certified and into production and service.
"We feel like the initiation of this relationship puts us on the road to certification," said XTI Aircraft CEO Bob LaBelle at a launch event at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum in Denver, Colorado. "We're very confident we'll be the first commercial long-range, fixed-wing vertical takeoff and landing plane. The market has been waiting for this for a long time."
The Trifan 600 looks very much like a traditional fixed-wing design, but it's capable of vertical takeoff thanks to a pair of huge, tilting ducted fans on the leading edges of its wings, and a third ducted fan in the body of the aircraft behind the cabin, which is covered over during horizontal flight to reduce drag. It'll be reasonably simple to fly, running on an electronically controlled fly-by-wire system that'll manage the electric motors, thrust vectoring and control surfaces in response to pilot commands.
Should a runway be available, it'll make sense to use it; you can nearly double your range to 1,380 miles (2,200 km) if you take off and land conventionally. But even without runways, this could be a killer machine in the business jet market, flying rooftop to rooftop from LA to San Francisco, or London to Berlin without breaking a sweat.
Starting at US$6.5 million a unit (which would seat one pilot and five passengers), it's priced super-competitively for a business market in which the Gulfstream G500 series is currently the biggest seller at US$44 million a pop. And while yes, the G500 goes much faster and further, it can't hold a candle to the inter-city convenience the Trifan will deliver.
XTI can claim US$1.3 billion in sales and a backlog of 202 aircraft to build at this point, with 40 of these being non-refundable purchase orders, 122 being refundable deposits and 40 being purchase options.
But of course before it can start delivering them, it needs to get this thing certified. "One of the big things I'd like to emphasize," said LaBelle, "is that we don't need a whole new set of regulations to fly this. We're gonna certify under currently-available FAA regulations. And we also don't need charging infrastructure, or new runways, we can operate perfectly within the current national airspace system of this country or any other country."
We're not sure how exactly XTI can certify the Trifan under existing regulations, but the current plan is to get a full-scale test aircraft built and flying in 2022, with FAA type certification slated for 2024 and production to begin once that's squared away. The XTI team boasts a number of highly experienced aviation industry executives, LaBelle being the former Chairman and CEO of AgustaWestland America, and COO Charlie Johnson being the former President and Chief Operating Officer of Cessna, to name two. Between them and other members of the team, they've overseen some 35 type certifications, so while this aircraft will definitely be a huge challenge, they know a thing or two about the process.
“The TriFan 600 will transform the light commercial aircraft market, providing eco-friendly, on-demand air travel without compromising safety and performance,” stated Keith Duffy, CEO of Xeriant. “In my view, no other VTOL aircraft comes close. It is an honor to be associated with XTI’s world-class management team which has developed and certified over 30 new aircraft over their careers.”
The Xeriant/XTI joint venture will be called Eco-Aero, alluding to a future in which the Trifan will shift from hybrid propulsion to full battery power or hydrogen fuel-cell use. Ownership will be split 50/50 between the two companies, and Xeriant will invest some US$10 million over the next year to accelerate development.
Check out a short video below.