✈️ AIRBORNE: 🌱REBORN XXXV
Updated: Jul 16
Airborne: Reborn / Volume XXXV / June 11th 2021
In a big week for Electric Vertical Aircraft we saw a glitzy unveiling in Los Angeles and a British mega-announcement made in contrastingly restrained fashion. There was news of a Virginian STOL with 🇨🇭 input, partnerships in 🇧🇷, a 🇨🇳 first in 🇯🇵, a robust 🇩🇪 defence, an electric hoverpack in 🇦🇺 and eVTOL medivac for the 🇺🇸 military.
Electric trainers are en route to the 🇩🇰 Air Force, there’s SAF news from 🇳🇱, 🇫🇷 and Heathrow. Drones have been scanning a Scandi 🛢 terminal, a Surrey residence and falling softly Stateside. A 3D printed rocket looked familiar, there were space threats from 🇷🇺, 🛰 incentives from 🇨🇳 and of course, news that everyone’s favourite bald billionaire will take his bro sub-orbital.
With all that, and much more besides - it's Airborne: Reborn XXXV.
Charles Osborne - Founder
Sam Chandra - Asia-Pacific Lead, Aviation
The UK’s Vertical Aerospace announced their plan to go public via a merger with the NYSE listed Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) Broadstone Acquisition Corp (NYSE: BSN) valuing the company at $2.2 billion. They’ll become ‘EVTL’ when the merger completes. The deal includes a ‘PIPE’ of investment from American Airlines, lessors Avolon, Honeywell and Rolls-Royce. Microsoft’s VC arm M12, alongside German tech tycoons Rocket Internet and Standard Industries’ 40 North have also invested. Conditional orders for “up to 1,000 aircraft” were also announced. American Airlines will take “up to 250” with options on 100 more, Virgin Atlantic 50-150 and Avolon 310-500 - though the company say they can break-even selling less than 100 units / year (via Vertical Aerospace):
Archer ($3.3 billion valuation) revealed ‘Maker’ (in true Hollywood style) in L.A. The two-seat, twelve rotor, lift/pusher prop electric air taxi is aimed at 20-40 mile missions. They anticipate 10-minute fast-charges enabling 40 such flights per day and using c. 30% of the vehicle’s charge. The high-props and gull-wing doors are certainly more passenger friendly than the low-slung eHang VT-30’s. But it’s not the aircraft the company will certify - that’ll have a pilot on-board and room for four. We especially liked their consideration of luggage requirements and the company’s ‘Prime Radiant’ tool for simulating / planning air taxi operations. Their 2024 date for commercial flights in LA and Miami is certainly ambitious (via Archer):
Electra.aero released details of their Short Takeoff and Landing (STOL) aircraft. Slated for operations in 2026, it uses distributed electric propulsion (DEP) and a hybrid powertrain. STOL aircraft have long been used as bush planes (and in the military) and such architectures are serious contenders for urban and regional air mobility applications. Electra’s aircraft promises take-off / landing in 100m at speeds as low as 30mph, with far lower power usage than their vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) cousins. They just don’t look as sexy! (via Yahoo! Finance):
Eve Air Mobility and Helisul have partnered up to explore Urban Air Mobility (UAM) concepts in Brazil. Helisul - one of Latin America’s largest helicopter operators, a Fixed Base Operator (FBO) and aircraft maintenance outfit - will start by using conventional helicopters in a proof-of-concept to collect data. Ultimately they will order up to 50 of Eve’s eVTOLs, which they hope to be flying from 2026 (via Vertical):
Japan are stepping up their Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) game, setting up a 22-strong ‘Next Generation Aviation Mobility Planning Office’ team. The new administration will be responsible for assessing and integrating both manned and unmanned aircraft into the national airspace and will interface with already established units in the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (via DroneDJ).
Accolades for the very first air taxi flight in Japan go to (…to the surprise of some) China’s eHang! Their 216 multicopter flew as part of the “Leading the Revolution of Urban Air Mobility” event hosted by the Mizushima Aero & Space Industry Cluster Study Group in Okayama Prefecture (via eHang):
Lilium’s ducted fan technology is defended in this piece. In short, CTO Alistair McIntosh says they have taken a hit with the higher disc loading as they are focusing on regional air mobility, not urban. The Lilium Jet is more power hungry than competitors in the vertical portion of flight, but in wing borne cruise benefits from a much more aerodynamic design. As such it’s better suited to longer range missions. Meanwhile the company selected Honeywell to provide their fly-by-wire flight control system. The jet has no less than 36 ducted fans and eschews traditional control surfaces in favour of vectored thrust - just like your multicopter drone, but a lot more complicated (via Intelligent Aerospace, New Atlas).
United Airlines yesterday launched their very own corporate venture fund - United Airlines Ventures. Headed up by their VP of Corporate Development, Mike Leskinen, the fund aims to accelerate the airlines goal of de-carbonising by 2050, without the use of carbon offsets. Having previously announced a partnership with Archer for their recently announced Maker, having placed conditional orders with Boom for their supersonic Overture and made a multi-million dollar investment in carbon capture project 1PointFive - this recent announcement turns the temperature up a few notches in the sustainable aviation investment space. Submit your pitch to them here! (via Cision).
🌍 ROAD TO NET-ZERO 🌲 The UK’s Loganair - the airline that brought you the world’s shortest scheduled commercial flight - will now be adding a £1 ‘Green Skies’ surcharge to each ticket. The funds will go into their offsetting program. The regional airline is concurrently participating in no less than three zero emissions flight programs with Ampaire, ZeroAvia and Cranfield Aerospace Solutions (via Travel Weekly).
🔋 BATTERY-ELECTRIC ⚡️ Pipistrel have reportedly become the first supplier of an operational electric aircraft to an Air Force, anywhere in the world. The Danish military will lease two Velis Electro models through Green Aerolease - to train new pilots, in a trial lasting two years (via Auto Evolution):
🌱 SUSTAINABLE AVIATION FUEL 🛢 Another SAF project was announced - this time at the Port of Rotterdam. Enerkem will partner with Shell to upgrade their facility from ‘waste-to-chemicals’ operations to ‘waste-to-jet’. Production is expected from 2025-26 (via PortNews).
Our good friends at Flock Cover finally have some proper competition in the drone insurance space! The UK’s Moonrock Drone Insurance - founded by Simon Ritterband and underwritten by Hiscox (LSE: HSX.L) - have secured £1m GBP for international expansion. They’ll expand their commercial drone cover with an offering aimed at the consumer space. A consortium consisting of Dual Asset’s Philip Oldcorn, Andrew Hillier (Howden Group), Russell Kilpatrick (Spring Partners Ltd), Paul Cousins (Chesterfield Group), Richard Bryant (Prime Insurance) and Connect Digital Labs are in on the deal (via Commercial Drone Professional).
👩💻 TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT 🗼 Frequentis are the latest company to join Project RISE, their MosaiX Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) integration platform having been selected by Dronecloud. It’ll be used alongside traditional Air Traffic Control (ATC) at Cranfield Airport. An implementation of similar tech is underway with the Norwegian government owned airport operator Avinor (via UAS Weekly).
🎮 BVLOS 🔭 A Sees.ai drone was piloted over a residential building in Surrey from 50 miles away, as part of a Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) building inspection for construction company Skanska, in a reported UK first (via Construction Enquirer):
🔍 INSPECTION 📏 Oiltanking - a Danish oil logistics company - are now using Azur Drones Skeyetech drone-in-a-box solution for routine, autonomous day and night surveillance of their fuel storage terminal in Copenhagen. Thermal imaging cameras also enable monitoring of several pumps. The installation has been approved by the Danish aviation authority Trafikstyrelsen (via Fior Reports):
🚀 LAUNCH 🌎 Relativity Space have announced their new medium lift Terran R rocket. Looking a lot like a Falcon 9 sized Starship - the fully 3D-printed and reusable vehicle will carry 20 tonnes to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) - a Falcon 9 takes 15.6 tonnes for comparison. Funding to accelerate the company towards production and then scaling is expected to come from a series E round…soon? Ed: news just in - $650m secured (via NASA, Space News):
🛰 SPACE INFRASTRUCTURE 🌉 Russia are threatening to exit the International Space Station (ISS) by 2025 in response to US sanctions (via Space.com)
Meanwhile the Chinese city of Shenzen are offering some $47m in incentives to entice satellite manufacturers (and associated supply chain companies) to their globally dominant electronics supercluster (via Deviscourse).
🌎 EARTH OBSERVATION 👀 BlackSky the realtime geospatial intelligence company will soon go public via a SPAC merger with Osprey Technology Acquisition Corp (NYSE: SFTW). They’re now expecting higher revenues than previously anticipated. Their constellation is set to number 14 satellites by the end of 2021 (via Yahoo! Finance).
👩🚀 OTHER SPACE NEWS 🌌 OQ Technology, the Dubai/Luxembourg 5G from space provider are subcontracting Leaf Space to build their ground station nearby OQ’s control centre in Luxembourg (via Satelliteprome).