MDA 1: a VW Camper for the Skies

Dean Sigler Batteries, Electric Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation Leave a Comment

Partners MD Aircraft GmbH, Kasaero GmbH, and Rolls Royce Electrical are crafting a 10-seat electrically-powered MDA 1 airliner.  Intended for the short-haul and regional market, the airplane will provide comfort, economy and safety. In an interview arranged by Karl Kaeser, CEO of Kasaero, your editor spoke with MD’s CEO, Gregor Müller.  Co-CEO Tim Markwald was on another project during this interview. They describe their current project as a Volkswagen Van of the skies.  Like the boxy little “bus” of the 1960s, MDA’s twin-motor aircraft will provide utilitarian, but comfortable transport for people and goods.  Like the VW, everyone will get a window seat. Unlike the old Kombi, the aircraft will climb quickly and efficiently, something difficult with the original vehicle’s 36-horsepower engine and more than two on board.  The MDA 1 is designed for short and sometimes unimproved fields, and is able to land and take off over a 50-foot obstacle in 500 meters (1,640 feet).  Part of this is …

Joby Plus Hydrogen: 523 Miles

Dean Sigler Announcements, Batteries, Electric Powerplants, Hybrid Aircraft, hydrogen, Hydrogen Fuel, Sky Taxis, Sustainable Aviation Leave a Comment

Combine the Joby S4 pre-production prototype with H2 Fly’s expertise in providing clean energy, and watch world records fall. 2021 155-Mile Battery Flight Justin Paines, Joby’s Chief Test Pilot, guided the eVTOL through eleven circuits of a pre-designated route and managed 154.6 miles (248.8 km) in just 77 minutes. JoeBen Bevirt, Joby’s founder, noted his firm had, “achieved something that many thought impossible with today’s battery technology.”  Batteries have improved since then, but an alliance with a German hydrogen program makes even longer flights possible. 2024’s Hydrogen Odyssey In an even greater demonstration of its capabilities, an S4 powered by hydrogen managed a 523 mile, non-stop flight on June 24, 2024.  Powering around a circuit above Marina, California, the craft landed with 10 percent of its 40-kilogram (88 pound) hydrogen load still available. A collaboration between Joby and Germany’s H2-Fly uses much of the same system as H2-Fly’s Hy4 aircraft, a re-engineering of the G4 designed by Tine Tomažič, head …

Volocopter Faces 2024 Paris Olympics Hurdles

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Despite much fanfare and promises of Parisian skies filled with visions of electric Vertical Take Off and Landing (eVTOL) machines carrying passengers to Olympics events across the City of Light, Volocopter may be left in the dark. A Double Blow eVTOL Insights reported a double blow to Volocopter’s plans late last year.  “On Friday (November 17th), news broke that Volocopter’s plans to begin a 15 minute air taxi flight in the Marina Bay area of Singapore, early next year, alongside the hiring of key staff, has been put on hold – indefinitely – as the German company cannot secure local partners to share the large funding required for such an enterprise.” As though though that were not enough, On November 19th, Volocopter’s future “jewel in its crown” flights over Paris during the Olympic Games, next July and August, were sharply downgraded.  Local politics seem to blame. eVTOL Insights reports, “The French Capital’s councillors have reacted to the idea with a …

ZeroAvia: 100 CRJ700 Motors to American

Dean Sigler Announcements, Electric Aircraft Components, Electric Powerplants, Fuel Cells, hydrogen, Hydrogen Fuel, Sustainable Aviation Leave a Comment

Your Jet May Become a Prop Plane Bombardier’s (Commuter Regional Jet) CRJ700 has been in service for over 21 years, and may be about to receive a power system that will make it one of the cleanest alternatives in air travel. According to electric-flight.eu, “American Airlines plans to convert most of its CRJ700 fleet to environmentally friendly engines,” particularly ZeroAvia’s ZA2000 RJ drive train, electrified by hydrogen fuel cells. American, a shareholder in ZeroAvia, operates a fleet of CRJ 700s through its American Eagle regional airline subsidiary.  Converting the airplanes from their current General Electric CF34-8C1 to hydrogen-fueled ZA2000s will extend the lives of the planes and make them the cleanest things in the sky. Robert Isom, CEO of American Airlines, said: “To accelerate the transition of commercial aviation to a low-carbon future, investments in promising technologies, including alternative forms of propulsion, are required.” Val Miftakhov, CEO and founder of ZeroAvia, added, “At this early stage in our work together, …

Take These Batteries with Grains of Sodium

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“The goal of the Laboratory for Energy Storage and Conversion (LESC), at the University of California San Diego Nanoengineering Department, is to design and develop new functional nano-materials and nano-structures for advanced energy storage and conversion applications.”  Their focus on sodium (salt) batteries seems to promise much. UC San Diego is carrying out that mission with new and different approaches to creating “safer and less expensive alternatives to lithium ion batteries.”  One such approach is commercializing an advanced sodium ion battery using a tin anode instead of hard carbon. Cost, of course, is a major factor in turning to sodium.  OneCharge lists the comparative prices of lithium and sodium precursors as of June, 2023: Sodium carbonate costs approximately $290 per metric ton. Lithium carbonate (99.5% battery grade), on the other hand, commands a significantly higher price of approximately $35,000 per metric ton (even after a sharp decline since mid-July 2022). The same source notes sodium is 1,180 times more abundant in …

Next-Generation Battery Progress

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Do we have “revolutionary” battery progress, or are the next-generation batteries we see proliferating more evolutionary?  Progress has not been particularly speedy: your editor first saw Dr. Yi Chu at a 2009 electric aviation symposium, when he discussed the idea of achieving a “10X” battery within a few years.  Following his tenure at Stanford University, he founded Amprius, which is now producing 500 Watt-hour per kilogram cells.  This big jump in energy density is still short of his original goal, which was to have produced something around 1,000 Watt-hour/kilogram cells. MagniX Samson MagniX has been developing ever-larger electric motors for over a decade, and is now developing larger battery packs to power them.  Their next-generation Samson batteries contain 300 Watt-hours per kilogram at the pack level, which means higher energy densities at the module and cell levels.  The addition of a necessary battery management system (BMS) when cells assembled into modules or packs adds weight, but is necessary with lithium …

Wright ASCENDS

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“The ASCEND program sets a benchmark of the fully integrated all-electric powertrain system at a power density of ≥ 12 kW/kg with an efficiency at ≥ 93%. Currently, these targets, among others, are beyond the capability of state-of-the-art technologies and will require creative thinking and innovation in the electric motor and power electronics space.”  As shown below, the large Wright motors will be available in both ducted fan jet and turboprop configurations. Wright Electric, one of eleven organizations signed up for the ASCEND Program, is pushing forward on several projects encompassing the totality of electric propulsion. WM2500 Motor Jeffrey Engler started Wright Electric in 2018, with assistance from Yates Aerospace, a firm headed by record-holder Chip Yates.  According to Wikipedia, “Two test stands were constructed: one with two 250 [kilowatt] (335 horsepower) UQM motors and two Hartzell Propellers,… the other on a 10,000 [pound] (4,500[kilogram]) trailer to be brought to high altitude test sites.”  Yates had used the same UQM …

Helios to the Stratosphere

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Miguel Iturmendi has been exploring the stratosphere and beyond in the Perlan 2 sailplane and his Helios Horizon electrically-launched craft.  He flew in the Perlan 2 sailplane in 2018 to over 65,000 feet, and more recently took part in a demonstration flight in that aircraft.  His ongoing efforts with the Horizon are increasing altitude records for electric aircraft. He lives in Florida, where he leads the Helios Horizon project and works on the aircraft, a modified Pipistrel Taurus electric motorglider.  For record flights, he takes the craft to Minden, Nevada, where the Perlan 2 resides when it is in the States.  The most recent flights took place near Bishop, California, a location for many historic soaring flights. The spring test campaign demonstrated several flights between 17,500 and 24,000 feet on battery power.  The team never used more than 60 percent of the total pack’s energy, indicating future flights could go higher.  (After all, you have a sailplane in which you …

Lilium and Whisper: Quiet Flyers

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Two radical-looking electric aircraft, both quiet flyers, contrast in flight modes – eVTOL (electric Vertical Take Off and Landing), and eCTOL (electric Conventional Take Off and Landing).  Germany’s Lilium and America’s Whisper Jet show their unique ways. Lilium Founded in 2015, Lilium, like most of its competitors, is less than a decade old, but already boasts 950 employees in four offices.  The workers come from six continents and comprise 58 nationalities, a winner in any Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion ranking.  They make an impressive product. Lilium is an expensive machine, costing around $7 million plus.  Its marketing approach seems to be toward the VIP set and its first locations are in cash-rich areas such as the French Riviera and along Florida’s eastern shoreline.  Despite the glossy façade, there’s a solid array of engineering inside. Batteries One of the first questions your editor had on early versions of Lilium’s aircraft was where they hid the batteries.  Recent news from the company …

Two Firms, Two Milestones

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Two firms, one making both conventional take off and landing (CTOL) and eVTOL (electric Vertical Take Off and Landing) aircraft, and one making a CTOL capable of root-top operation, had major milestones in the last month. Beta Technologies Beta Technologies, founded in 2017 by Kyle Clark, developed its first craft.  Ava underwent test flights and even at that point attracted its first customer, “United Therapeutics, which under founder and CEO Martine Rothblatt was looking for efficient transportation methods for organs intended for human transplant.  United Therapeutics awarded Beta a $48 million contract” Finding Ava to be complicated, the Beta turned to a simpler approach.  The resulting Alia was further developed into both conventional and eVTOL configurations.  As a conventional, if rather swoopy-looking craft, Alia has flown along a network of charging stations created by Beta to provide overnight stays for pilots and an energy source for extended trips. The Alia demonstrated its ability to transition from a lift-off using the …