Too Similar Not to Have Joined Forces
The PRNewswire.com press release lauds the acquisition of Airflow.aero by Electra.aero: “Hybrid-Electric Blown-Lift eSTOL Plane Developer Electra Acquires Airflow to Create a Leader in Advanced Air Mobility.” The two companies have been developing similar multi-motor, blown-lift aircraft for the past few years. Electra’s has eight motors distributed across its wingspan, Airflow’s has 10.
They both use large multi-element flaps to divert propeller thrust downwards, enabling extremely short takeoffs and landings.
A Great Idea, but Better with Electric Power
This is not a new concept, having been demonstrated in the 1960s by French manufacturer Breguet and American McDonnell. The 188 was a demonstrator that didn’t pick up any orders in either country. The narrator explains propeller control was a mechanical-hydraulic process and no electronics were involved. The complex system might have been a maintenance challenge airlines were unwilling to take on. Electra.aero’s hybrid-electric approach might be the answer to simpler, reliable propulsion, essential for the multiply-driven propellers.
Combining order books, the team has almost 800 planes on order, “beyond break-even for commercial development.”
Both firms worked on eVTOL (electric Vertical Take Off and Landing) craft in past endeavors, and have been developing eSTOL (electric Short Take Off and Landing) airplanes. Possibly, the enormous loads imposed on batteries during lift and hover operations dissuaded further efforts in the vertical world. eSTOL craft usually manage better range and payloads for the same power.
Jessica Reed, writing for Aviation Today, answers one question about the respective firms’ future plans. “Both companies have developed electric short take-off and landing (eSTOL) aircraft, and Airflow’s eSTOL business will now be consolidated into the Electra brand. Marc Ausman, co-founder and CEO of Airflow—now Chief Product Officer of Electra—believes that working together with Electra will be a much stronger approach for bringing their eSTOL aircraft to market. ‘We are combining the best of both worlds,’ he told Avionics International in an interview, “taking the best of what each company has learned.’ The most immediate objective for Electra is to fly a technology demonstrator within the next 12 months.”
Besides the difference in how many propellers send propwash over the wings and flaps, Electra’s product is fairly svelte and swoopy. Airflow’s machines are boxy and functional looking for their anticipated large payloads.
Their mutual announcement shows the two companies will probably continue on their individual development paths, with solid orders for the two complementary types of craft shoring up the overall health of the combined enterprise.
The Pipistrel Connection
Just before Pipistrel was acquired by Textron, it had formed a partnership with Airflow to provide motors, motor controllers, and battery systems for use in Airflow’s Model 100 and Model 200 aircraft. The 100 will be able to carry four passengers or 800 pounds of cargo over 250 miles. The 200 can carry nine passengers or a ton of cargo for up to 500 miles. Both aircraft are claimed to be 100 percent carbon neutral. Just how this partnership will continue, with both Airflow and Pipistrel involved with new partnerships, remains to be seen.
Regardless, the similar mission profiles for all the aircraft in the expanded Electra lineup show why the acquisition was seemingly inevitable. Electra’s eSTOL craft will carry nine passengers and a pilot or 1,800 pounds of cargo up to 500 miles “in all weather conditions.” The company claims their technology delivers 2.5 times the payload and 10 times longer range 70-percent lower operating costs than vertical takeoff alternatives.
Flying continues its report on the acquisition with compliments being traded between Electra’s CEO and its new CPO (Chief Product Officer).
Marc Ausman, former CEO of Airflow, explains, “The Airflow team and the Electra team both have deep experience in the development and testing of battery-powered aircraft. This experience convinced us that physics and the economics both strongly favor a solution that uses a wing throughout the full flight versus a rotor-borne vertical takeoff and transition. Distributed electric propulsion allows us to take off and land within two vehicle lengths to access parking-lot sized spaces.”
Details of the amalgamation are not disclosed because both partners are privately-held companies.
A Long, but Worthwhile Talk
John Langford lectures at a symposium in Falmouth England, explaining his background and the origins of Electra.aero. The video is over an hour, but well worthwhile.