AirInsight attended this year’s 2019 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, where two companies are showing off their personal transportation vehicles. This follows Bell’s display of its new technology last week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. New drone-based technologies and urban mobility concepts go well beyond traditional aerospace in their applications, and as a result Paris and Farnborough may no longer be the only shows for introducing new aircraft technologies, even when built by key industry players.
This year in Detroit, two aviation companies showed their wares. One, SureFly, brought a prototype of its two-seat personal hybrid-electric helicopter to the show, which we have previously seen at EAA Oshkosh and Paris. While this drone-inspired rotorcraft remains under development and is in the process of certification (or will be when the government re-opens) has an empty weight of 1950 lbs, a payload of 522 lbs, and eight motors located on four arms. The aircraft will have a maximum speed of 70 knots and a maximum flight time of 2.5 hours. As a hybrid, its piston engine can be refueled quickly, without the need for a battery recharge in normal operations.
This aircraft is different from a helicopter, and different from an aircraft, which brings us certification issues. Does this fit under Part 27, Part 23, Part 25, or a bit of each. The FAA is going to have an interesting assignment in certifying new technologies that don’t fit within the existing regulatory frameworks.
With a target price of about $200,000, this helicopter does not utilize a collective, but instead has a single joystick control for an enhanced flight control system that offers flight envelope protection and fly-by-wire, and includes an advanced autopilot. Safety systems on the aircraft include a redundant flight control sensor, battery backup for emergency descent, as well as a full aircraft emergency ballistic parachute.
Another prototype was shown by ASX – Aerospace Experience Technologies, who are based at Detroit’s Coleman Young (nee City) Airport. ASX are developing MOBi-ONE, an autonomous electric VTOL aircraft. The concept, which is under development, was represented by a sub-scale model, is expected to take off like a helicopter, fly like a plane at a top speed of 250 mph, and land like a helicopter within distances of 60 miles. Leveraging existing Electric Vehicle architecture and autonomous technologies, this class of aircraft has been enabled by advances in electric propulsion, automation, and lightweight materials.
The company expects consumer costs to be comparable to an Uber XL for similar distances, providing cost-effective travel. Detroit Aircraft, the parent of ASX, will build and certify the prototype under Part 27. That company was founded in 2011 and has built more than 70 small VTOL electric aircraft since 2013 for civil and military applications.
The Bottom Line:
Technology is crossing over industry lines, and experiences from automotive, aerospace, and high tech companies are merging in control systems and software development, and are each leveraging battery, electric motor, and advanced materials technologies for product improvement. The next key breakthrough in one technology element will impact multiple industries as applications converge. Keeping up with technology is becoming more complicated, as aerospace companies now need to monitor new players as innovative urban mobility development concepts reach for the skies.