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Vertical Aerospace Releases Q2 Financial Results, Plans for Hover Testing

Vertical Aerospace published a letter to shareholders this week reporting the company’s results from the first six months of 2022. Vertical finished building the full-scale VX4 eVTOL prototype which will be used for flight testing soon. (Photo: Vertical Aerospace)

Vertical Aerospace, designer and manufacturer of the VX4 electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, provided company updates in a letter to shareholders this week, including plans to perform a series of tethered hover flight tests as soon as the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority grants the company a piloted permit. The tethered hover tests are important for demonstrating the aircraft’s stability during take-off and landing as well as confirming performance of flight control systems and batteries. Vertical’s entry into service of the VX4 is targeted for 2025.

Following a series of taut and loose tethered hover flights, Vertical Aerospace will perform untethered flight tests, including multi-axis maneuvers, at up to 50 feet in altitude. According to the company, these flight tests will “continue to expand the flight envelope, testing stability and control, the flight control system, propeller to propeller interactions, loads, vibrations and system operation during low speed transition.”

The next objective is to demonstrate transitions between hover and wing-borne cruise, at altitudes of 5,000 to 10,000 feet, and at speeds of up to 145kts. Transition flights will validate the vehicle’s aerodynamics, structure, powertrain, and flight control systems.

Vertical’s founder and CEO Stephen Fitzpatrick remarked on the company’s performance in the first half of 2022, noting, “In the last quarter, we have expanded our pre-order book to more than 1,400 and announced new VX4 applications in emergency medical services, cargo and business aviation, with Babcock and FLYINGGROUP.”

The VX4 is a piloted, four-passenger eVTOL aircraft that is expected to have a top speed of 200 mph and a range of 100+ miles. (Photo: Vertical Aerospace)

Vinny Casey, Chief Financial Officer at Vertical, commented in the letter to shareholders: “During the first half of 2022 we invested in the build of the VX4 Prototype, the development of our test and certification activities and in the people, systems and processes to support the company.”

Key takeaways from the company’s financial results are a net operating loss of £39 million for the first six months of 2022, as well as cash and cash equivalents of £158 million, which it expects to cover funding of operating expenses and capital expenditure requirements for the next year or more. This month, Vertical also established an equity subscription line with global financial services group Nomura. This enables the eVTOL developer to issue up to $100 million in new ordinary shares.

Vertical expects net cash outflows for the second half of 2022 used in operating activities to total £40 to £50 million.

In the first half of 2022, Vertical’s achievements included completion of the full-scale VX4 prototype build, along with a series of ground tests. Vertical completed 90% of the build by the end of March. According to the company’s letter to shareholders, the team expects to begin flying in the coming weeks. During the second quarter, Vertical also “secured concurrent validation of the VX4 between EASA and CAA on the same SC-VTOL certification basis.”

The VX4 is a full-scale prototype that will conduct much of its flight testing with a pilot present in the cockpit, according to the Q2 shareholder letter. “Qualifying a vehicle for piloted flight is a much bigger challenge than flying with remote controls. This requires the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to perform a detailed review before signing off our airworthiness and issuing us with a piloted permit to fly,” according to Vertical. The prototype has completed ground-based testing such as vibration tests, lift load tests, and propeller thrust tests in order to confirm that the prototype meets the design specifications.

Other highlights from this year included a strategic partnership with Molicel, a company that will supply high-power cylindrical format cells for the battery pack of Vertical’s VX4. And American Airlines recently agreed to pre-pay for 50 of Vertical’s eVTOL aircraft. The airline entered into a $1 billion agreement with Vertical last year to purchase up to 250 of the VX4 aircraft and an optional 100 additional aircraft. American also made plans to invest $25 million in the eVTOL developer at the time.

Vertical entered into an agreement with Hanwha Aerospace this year to develop electric actuators that will be integrated into the VX4. The actuators will provide tilt and pitch control for the eVTOL’s four forward propellers as well as aerodynamic control surface actuation on the V-tail and wing.

The post Vertical Aerospace Releases Q2 Financial Results, Plans for Hover Testing appeared first on Aviation Today.

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NASA and FAA Administrators Discuss Advanced Air Mobility at White House Summit

The White House summit on advanced air mobility featured discussions about drones and electric air taxis or eVTOLs, like the one pictured above. (Photo courtesy of Joby)

According to Billy Nolen, Acting Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, two companies developing electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft expect to earn FAA certification of their vehicles as early as 2024. He shared numerous insights about the FAA’s approach to advanced air mobility and ensuring safety for the aviation industry during a keynote presentation at a summit hosted by the White House last week. Nolen added that in addition to supporting certification for eVTOL aircraft, another priority of the FAA is working to enable routine drone operations that can be carried out beyond the line of sight of a visual observer.

Joby Aviation’s team expects to start operations of their eVTOL aircraft in 2024. Joby is pursuing certification of its eVTOL with the FAA, and an announcement last month from the company shared that the eVTOL developer has also applied for certification in the U.K. Joby’s second-quarter earnings call will take place this week on August 11.

Another major eVTOL developer, Archer Aviation, announced in July that it has successfully completed “all of its ‘critical azimuth’ flight tests, marking the completion of the second of three key phases of flight testing,” according to the company. “The purpose of these tests are to validate the crosswind capabilities of Archer’s eVTOL aircraft configuration and flight control systems.”

Archer’s flight test campaign has quickly shifted to focus on expanding forward flight speed towards full transition. The company expects to achieve certification of its aircraft in 2024 and launch operations shortly thereafer.

JoeBen Bevirt, Founder and CEO of Joby Aviation, remarked on the amazing transformative potential of AAM during his presentation. “That potential, the economic benefits of that, the productivity that it brings, the access that it brings are really exciting,” he said.

A panel discussion on the benefits of AAM, featuring Joby’s JoeBen Bevirt, pictured above seated on the left

“There are a number of key pieces that make all of this possible. Electric propulsion is at the core of that,” according to Bevirt. “Electric propulsion gives us the ability to think differently about aircraft design.” This means manufacturing aircraft that are safer, quieter, and less expensive, with next-generation capabilities.

Bevirt commended NASA, the U.S. Air Force’s AFWERX/Agility Prime program, and the White House’s OSTP (Office of Science and Technology Policy) for their support of the growing AAM industry. The success of AAM in the U.S., he claimed, is vital for the country to continue playing a leadership role in aviation. 

Senator Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator, shared comments on NASA’s commitment to advanced air mobility (AAM). The overarching vision is to support the safe development of new air transportation systems. He poses the questions, “How do we move people and cargo between places previously not served, or underserved? How do we utilize revolutionary new aircraft?”

One area of great potential for AAM is assisting firefighters and first responders in hard-to-reach areas. Climate change means that extreme weather events and wildfires are happening more frequently, explained Nelson. As of Monday, August 1, he noted, there were 53 wildfires currently active in the U.S. “These [AAM] aircraft can be a game-changer for emergency response and rescue operations.”

Unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, can be used to monitor a wildfire’s size and location, enabling a more effective firefighting approach. eVTOL aircraft that can carry passengers can be used for quickly transporting individuals out of a region with an active fire or other natural disaster.

Senator Bill Nelson delivered a keynote presentation about NASA’s commitment to advanced air mobility at the White House summit.

NASA’s research and industry collaboration focuses on four core areas related to AAM. These areas include noise abatement, airspace integration, autonomy, and safety. Nelson mentioned that they invite contributions from industry stakeholders through open forums like the AAM ecosystem working groups. Insights from stakeholders inform NASA not only on what is possible but what is required for the future of AAM.

“Humanity is on the cusp of a new era of aviation,” he said. “This era cannot happen on its own. We must choose to make it so. We have the resources. The question is, together do we have the will? I believe we do.”

Billy Nolen, Acting Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, delivered a keynote presentation during the White House summit, emphasizing the importance of public acceptance with new technologies like electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft and with increasingly autonomous aircraft.“If the public is not confident in their safety, then the benefits may never be realized,” he said. 

The FAA continues to work closely with the aviation community to ensure operational safety. For new AAM technologies, Nolen said, “our mission is to constantly advance our outstanding level of safety, without stifling the innovators. We aim to be a gateway, not a hurdle.”

FAA officials are collaborating with NASA, Homeland Security, Defense, and other agencies to support its comprehensive integration strategy for drones and other AAM vehicles. For drones, one of the FAA’s priorities is implementing standard rules for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations. Nolen shared that the agency works closely with the drone community to make routine BVLOS missions scalable and economically viable.

“By 2025, we could have a total of more than 2.6 million commercial and recreational drones flying in our airspace, according to FAA forecasts,” he stated. “It’s critical that we have a standard set of rules for operations beyond visual line of sight. This would enable operations for things like routine package deliveries, infrastructure inspections and agriculture spraying and inspection.”

The FAA has been working with the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and multiple other organizations as well as the states of Kansas and North Dakota, as part of an integration program called BEYOND. The program enables the FAA to “learn about and address state and local government concerns about drone operations—concerns related to safety, security, noise, and privacy.”

The agency has also entered into partnerships with more than 20 companies with the goal of advancing complex drone operational capabilities safely, Nolen shared. One of these partnerships is with Xcel Energy; the FAA is supporting inspections of power transmission lines conducted via unmanned aircraft.

In addition to advanced drone technology, electric air taxis, or eVTOLs, are a game changer for the AAM industry, Nolen believes. These aircraft not only promise more efficient personal transportation, but they will also be used for a range of applications such as firefighting, search and rescue operations, and transporting cargo.

“eVTOL technology is on its way,” remarked Nolen. “In fact, two companies expect to earn FAA certification of their vehicles as early as 2024.”

“We’re looking at every aspect of this enterprise—the vehicle itself, the framework for operations, access to the airspace, operator training, infrastructure development, and community engagement,” he said. “In other words, it’s not just about air taxis. It’s also about everything necessary to support air taxi flights.”

“We’re modifying our regulatory approach to enable powered lift operations including the certification of powered-lift vehicles and the pilots who operate them,” shared Nolen. “Longer-term, the agency plans to continue to develop permanent regulations to safely enable powered-lift operations and pilot training and certification.”

One of the challenges considered by the FAA is the integration of increasingly autonomous vehicles. Pilots operating conventional aircraft have to communicate with air traffic controllers, Nolen mentioned. “What if the software that enables an autonomous vehicle to remain aloft also allows it to safely separate itself from other aircraft?” he ponders.

Nolen recently met with multiple aviation officials in government and industry, and he reports that he was encouraged by AAM aircraft manufacturers—who “are moving through their home country’s certification process and now asking their American or U.K. counterpart for validation.”

The FAA is partnered with the National Aviation Authorities Network that includes the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand with the goal of aligning processes for certification and standardizing requirements for these new types of aircraft.

The post NASA and FAA Administrators Discuss Advanced Air Mobility at White House Summit appeared first on Aviation Today.

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American Airlines Invests in Hydrogen-Electric Engine Developer ZeroAvia

American Airlines announced an investment into ZeroAvia as well as its intent to order up to 100 hydrogen-electric engines from ZeroAvia. (Photo: ZeroAvia)

In an Aug. 3 announcement, American Airlines and ZeroAvia shared news of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in which American can order up to 100 of ZeroAvia’s hydrogen-electric engines. The airline is also investing in ZeroAvia’s innovative technology that could play a key role in advancing sustainable aviation, said Derek Kerr, Chief Financial Officer at American, commenting on the announcement. “We are excited to contribute to this industry development and look forward to exploring how these engines can support the future of our airline as we build American Airlines to thrive forever,” Kerr remarked.

ZeroAvia’s hydrogen-electric powertrain is designed to provide emission-free power for regional jet aircraft. The company’s ZA2000-RJ powertrain model is expected to launch commercially in the late 2020s. ZeroAvia’s team is working towards certain type certifications of its propulsion technology, including a 600kW powertrain designed for entry into service in 2024.

Val Miftakhov, founder and CEO of ZeroAvia, also commented on the announcement, expressing their excitement regarding American’s investment and the airline’s confidence in ZeroAvia’s potential. According to Miftakhov, the company’s primary focus is delivering sustainable travel. “Having support from the world’s largest airline is a strong indication of the progress we’re making on the development of hydrogen-electric, zero-emission flight,” he stated.

ZeroAvia secured $35 million in investments from United Airlines and Alaska Air Group at the end of 2021, bringing the total investment in the company to $115 million as of mid-December 2021. Other investors included AP Ventures, Horizons Ventures, Shell Ventures, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Summa Equity, and Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund.

July marked the signing of an MOU between ZeroAvia and Ravn Alaska, which included an order for 30 of the ZA2000 powertrains. Ravn intends to retrofit its fleet of De Havilland Dash-8 with ZeroAvia’s engines. The 2–5 megawatt ZA2000 modular powertrain is compatible with turboprop planes of 40 to 90 seats.

In June, ZeroAvia signed an agreement with MONTE Aircraft Leasing. The two companies will partner to offer aircraft leasing and financing solutions to operators. MONTE will also purchase up to 100 of the ZA600 powertrains for use on Cessna Caravan, DHC-6 Twin Otter, Dornier 228, and HAL-228 aircraft.

ZeroAvia also expanded an existing agreement with MHI RJ Aviation Group back in April 2022. The companies had signed an MOU at the end of 2021, and following the April announcement, MHIRJ agreed to provide engineering services and aircraft integration to support ZeroAvia’s certification of its engines.

Enabling sustainability in aviation is a priority for both American and ZeroAvia. A new partnership was formed between the hydrogen-electric engine developer and ZEV Station, a hydrogen fueling firm, earlier this year to construct infrastructure for green hydrogen refueling at airports in California. ZEV Station and ZeroAvia signed an MOU that included plans to collaborate for development of an initial project to prove the feasibility of hydrogen-electric propulsion systems.

The post American Airlines Invests in Hydrogen-Electric Engine Developer ZeroAvia appeared first on Aviation Today.

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Computer Chip Testing Delays Gogo 5G In-Flight Connectivity Launch to 2023

Gogo CEO Oakleigh Thorne reported a 5G computer chip testing issue during their quarterly earnings call on Friday. (Photo courtesy of Gogo Business Aviation)

Gogo CEO Oakleigh Thorne, during a second quarter earnings call Friday, said the expected fourth quarter launch of their next generation 5G in-flight connectivity (IFC) service could be delayed until mid-2023 due to testing associated with a computer chip being developed by one of their key suppliers.

Thorne said Gogo received the report of testing issues from Airspan, the company making the computer chip for its X3 onboard computer on Tuesday, with the executive noting that he had been preparing to announce fourth quarter availability of their entire 5G shipset for today’s earnings call. The chip testing delay update comes after a record-setting second quarter financial performance for Gogo with revenue increasing to $97.8 million, up 19% from the same period a year ago.

“The manufacturer of our 5G chip has just notified us of a new issue in late stage testing, which could delay ramping up to full production volumes until mid-2023,” Thorne said Friday.

Although caused by different factors, this is the latest computer chip related delay for Gogo’s 5G network. In March 2021, for example, Thorne discussed a delay in the launch of the service due to supply chain shortages.

The computer chip being developed by Airspan provides processing inside Gogo’s X3 line replaceable unit, pictured here. (Photo courtesy of Gogo)

Airspan is one of three key 5G technology suppliers for Gogo’s 5G connectivity. The end-to-end structure of Gogo’s 5G IFC network includes the following aircraft and ground-based elements:

  • Gogo’s Avance L5 and X3 Line Replaceable Units (LRUs)
  • Cisco’s 5G cloud computing service
  • Airspan’s Air5G base station and antenna arrays
  • First RF’s multiband antennas

The ground infrastructure for Gogo’s 5G network is supported by upgrades to 150 of its existing 250-tower 3G/4G network. The 5G network is using an unlicensed spectrum in the 2.4 GHz band, and Gogo has already reported connection speeds on average of up to 25 mbps on flight testing of the existing network. A total of 95 towers have been upgraded so far, according to Thorne.

Every individual airborne hardware and software component of Gogo’s 5G-enabling connectivity equipment has achieved FAA certification. However, Airspan’s reported delay prevents the availability of the X3 computer.

“The chip is stuck in test mode and can’t be moved to operational mode,” Thorne said. “The way these chips are built in multiple layers, test mode touches almost every layer. They have not been able to identify the exact source of the problem with their test mode; worst case would be a re-spin.”

According to Thorne, Gogo is still in the “discovery mode” phase for the testing issue associated with Airspan’s 5G computer chip. The Gogo CEO notes that if the chip has to be re-built, that would cause the launch of their service to slip to mid-2023. If a re-build can be avoided, the X3 computer could become available sooner.

Even with the delay of the 5G service, however, Thorne said the company is still seeing robust demand and pre-order commitments from operators who want the improved performance promised by the 5G network Gogo is deploying. Since the X3 box featuring Airspan’s computer chip is the only component of their 5G enabling equipment that is unavailable, some customers are already buying the antennas and other 5G-enabling LRUs that will allow them to operate on the 4G network until the 5G service becomes available.

Thorne also provided Gogo’s assessment of the size of the addressable market of business jets and turboprop aircraft that the company considers prime targets for aftermarket connectivity upgrades. This includes a total of 16,000 un-connected business and general aviation aircraft in North America, and another 13,000 aircraft currently in service in other regions around the world that it can now go after with the global broadband network it launched in partnership with OneWeb at EBACE.

The post Computer Chip Testing Delays Gogo 5G In-Flight Connectivity Launch to 2023 appeared first on Aviation Today.

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Business Jet OEMs Report Second Quarter Growth in Demand for Aftermarket Services

Second quarter earnings reports from Gulfstream, Embraer, and Bombardier—whose new Melbourne, Australia services center is pictured here—reported growth in demand for aftermarket services. (Photo courtesy of Bombardier)

Demand for aftermarket services from the world’s largest business jet manufacturers increased significantly between April and June, according to comments made by executives during recent earnings calls.

The increase in demand for services is primarily driven by the increase in the number of flight hours being flown by private jet operators. According to the latest report on global business jet flight operations published by WingX, business jet flying increased by 22% during the first six months of 2022 compared to the same period a year ago. That’s also an increase of 21% over the number of business jet flights that occurred during that same period in pre-pandemic 2019.

Bombardier published its second quarter earnings report this week that included $1.6 billion in revenue for the quarter reflecting 28 deliveries and “a 22% year-over-year aftermarket revenue increase to $359 million.”

“Our goal to reach $2 billion in annual aftermarket revenue by 2025 is fully on track,” Bombardier CEO Éric Martel told investors during an earnings call on Thursday.

The Canadian business jet manufacturer opened an expanded version of its service center in Singapore in June to meet the growth in demand for aftermarket services in the Asia Pacific region. Bombardier is also expanding its facilities in Miami and London and will open a new facility in Melbourne, Australia, later this year.

One of the ways Bombardier has also captured more of the demand for aftermarket services from independent maintenance and repair providers is by including SmartLink Plus on new in-production aircraft model to provide operators with a common digital infrastructure that captures and analyzes aircraft health, maintenance, and performance data in real-time.

Martel highlighted this feature of new Bombardier jets during the introduction of their new Global 8000 jet at the 2022 European Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition (EBACE), calling it the “digital evolution of services that lets our operators stay connected to the aircraft at all times.”

The Bombardier CEO wants to continue to expand the number of authorized aftermarket services facilities operated by the company in key regions to “bring more of our jets home.”

Gulfstream St. Louis, pictured here, is growing its workforce to increase services and production support. (Photo courtesy of Gulfstream)

Gulfstream has been involved in significant expansion of its aftermarket services facilities as well, including the addition of new avionics and cabin communications experts to a 24-hour support service operated at its Farnborough Service Center. The General Dynamics subsidiary opened a new service facility at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport in March.

The company also announced a $55 million investment to add 200 new engineers, mechanics, and avionics technicians to its facility in Appleton, Wisconsin, according to a June 2 press release. New cabinet makers and finishers, upholsterers, aircraft paint technicians, and manufacturing engineers are among those being added to the growing workforce at Gulfstream St. Louis.

On July 27, General Dynamics released its second quarter results, with Gulfstream generating $1.9 billion in revenue. “Revenue was $245 million more than the year-ago quarter or 15.1%, largely as a result of higher service center sales at Gulfstream and higher service volume, particularly FBOs at Jet Aviation,” General Dynamics CFO Jason Aiken told investors during their earnings call last week.

Embraer also reported its second quarter earnings on Thursday, where the Brazilian business jet manufacturer’s executives noted they’re experiencing a similar increase in demand for services driven by the increased utilization of their business jet and regional airliner fleet. The company has also invested in significant expansion for several of its service centers, including doubling the useful area from “20,000 m² to 40,000 m²” at its Sorocaba Service Center in Sao Paulo in June.

“Revenues reached $1.90 billion in the quarter, down 10% compared to the second quarter of ’21, due to lower deliveries in commercial and defense segments, partially offset by our service and support business unit,” Embraer CFO Antonio Garcia said during Embraer’s earnings call on Thursday.

The post Business Jet OEMs Report Second Quarter Growth in Demand for Aftermarket Services appeared first on Aviation Today.

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Canadian ADS-B Airspace Mandate Delayed Amid Transponder Supply Chain Constraints

Nav Canada is delaying the start of its ADS-B Out airspace mandate from February to August 2023, citing supply chain issues associated with ADS-B transponder parts. Pictured here is an air traffic control tower located at Toronto Pearson International Airport. (Photo, courtesy of Nav Canada.

The start of Canada’s Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) Out airspace mandate has been delayed by six months amid “supply chain limitations and backlogs” associated with aircraft transponder equipment, according to an Aug. 2 announcement from Nav Canada.

In February, the Canadian air navigation service provider (ANSP) introduced its new ADS-B Out airspace mandate in partnership with Transport Canada—the state civil aviation regulator—that would require aircraft flying in Class A and B airspace to be equipped with transponders that meet the applicable standard of DO-260B by Feb. 23, 2023. Now, under a new update to the policy, aircraft operating in Class A airspace only, need to be equipped with ADS-B Out by Aug. 10, 2023.

Additionally, aircraft operating in Class B airspace need to meet the equipage requirements by May 16, 2024. The third phase of the updated policy applicable to aircraft operating in Class C, D and E airspace remains unchanged from the timeline that was rolled out in February. Those aircraft need to be equipped “no later than 2026.”

Equipage levels for aircraft flying in Class A and B Canadian airspace from April. (Photo, courtesy of Nav Canada)

While not referencing any specific avionics manufacturers by name, Nav Canada updated the timeline for its ADS-B mandate based on “customer feedback regarding supply chain limitations and backlogs to acquire and install the appropriate transponder, as well as current equipage levels in each class of airspace,” according to their announcement.

Nav Canada Vice President of Operational Support Jeff Dawson, in a statement, said that the later dates “are warranted as the industry continues to navigate the ongoing impacts to supply chains due to the pandemic.”

“We are taking these steps to ensure customers have adequate time to comply with mandate equipage requirements,” Dawson adds.

ADS-B Out equipage levels for aircraft flying in Class A Canadian airspace are at 95%, while the rate in Class B is over 88%, according to Dawson.

The post Canadian ADS-B Airspace Mandate Delayed Amid Transponder Supply Chain Constraints appeared first on Aviation Today.

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Skylift’s Electric Drones Perform Medical Deliveries in the UK

Skylift’s electric UAV is demonstrating its ability to deliver prescription medications in the UK in partnership with Apian. (Photo: Skylift UAV)

The company Skylift UAV develops unmanned aircraft with vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capabilities. Their drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), were selected by the National Health Service (NHS) in England for a pilot program in the Isle of Wight. The delivery method was launched in partnership with Apian, a medical drone startup. Skylift’s CEO, Toby Moores, and Operations Manager, Ben Dexter, provided insights into the development of their UAV in a recent interview with Avionics International.

Skylift’s UAVs will deliver chemotherapy drugs from a pharmacy at Portsmouth Hospitals University to St. Mary’s Hospital. The UAV flights will take about 30 minutes each—a significant improvement from the four hours it typically takes to transport a package to the Isle of Wight. Efficient delivery is particularly important for transporting medications with a short shelf life. Following the trial flights in the Isle of Wight, the pilot program will carry out drone flights in Northumbria.

Boots, a pharmacy chain in the UK, announced last week that it had used a Skylift UAV to transport prescription medications from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight. Apian selected the Skylift drone for this project and also helped to facilitate the test flight. Boots claims that this is is the first time a community pharmacy in the UK has transported prescription-only medications via UAV or drone.

Rich Corbridge, Chief Information Officer at Boots, commented on the achievement, saying that drones have significant potential for delivering medicine. “In this trial, we will be looking at how much time we can save, as well as how we can incorporate drones into our medicines supply chain to create economic efficiencies too,” Corbridge stated.

Ben Dexter, Skylift’s Operations Manager, noted that one of the early use cases their company originally considered was how to increase efficiency in transporting rapid test kits for COVID-19 via drone. Skylift’s objective with the NHS pilot program is to “make it a more reliable service for patients on an island or in remote places around the country,” Dexter told Avionics.

For transporting medications or supplies from one hospital to another, an aircraft capable of vertical take-off and landing made sense, since hospitals often have helipads or other infrastructure in place to accommodate VTOL aircraft.

Skylift’s UAV is fully electric and is designed with eight lift motors. It transitions into forward flight once reaching an altitude of about 30 meters. With a conventional multi-rotor, Dexter explained, it would only be able to travel short distances.

The assembly, testing, and certification of the aircraft is all done in-house by Skylift. The company also specializes in fleet management of UAVs with its Skyfleet platform that enables remote piloting.

Skylift’s team works closely with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), said Dexter. Based on their operational safety case, they are permitted to operate the drone for trips up to 35 kilometers. The Skyfleet platform, he added, was the critical piece that allowed the company to operate beyond visual line of sight.

Skylift CEO Toby Moores stated that one of the unique features of their aircraft is its size compared with other VTOL concepts. It’s a larger aircraft with decent payload capacity, he told Avionics, and it offers solid speed and endurance when operating in forward flight mode.

The drone developed by Skylift is designed with eight lift motors for vertical take-off and landing, and it transitions to forward flight. (Photo: Skylift UAV)

The 12 members of the Skylift team have a range of expertise, including a strong background in manned aviation, Moores commented. “Our remote pilot station is very much based around the glass cockpit—the PFD [primary flight display] and MFD [multi-function display],” he said, “things you would normally expect to see on a Garmin 3000 or something like that.”

The remote pilot interface within the Skyfleet platform “should be relatively familiar for anybody who’s flown anything with a glass cockpit,” according to Moores. “Those without manned experience can quickly get up to speed, because it’s something that’s well understood, and we haven’t had to invent all of the UI for that.”

The synthetic vision system is a useful component of Skylift’s concept. Moores explained, “If you lose a camera,  or if visibility is poor, you can still fly, just like with any synthetic vision. But it also doubles up as a simulator for training purposes.” 

Long-range communication as well as resilient command and control are vital, he added. It is possible that the UAV will be out of range of standard drone comms, so aviation-grade comms are necessary. “We use L-band or S-band and satcoms to stay in touch with the aircraft,” he shared.

Working towards certification of their aircraft with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) may be next on Skylift UAV’s radar. “They’re our nearest neighbors, and I think that would be sensible,” Moores said. To operate under the Federal Aviation Administration’s regulations would be more of a challenge. It will depend on their customers’ needs, he remarked, and whether it makes sense to expand to international operations.

The post Skylift’s Electric Drones Perform Medical Deliveries in the UK appeared first on Aviation Today.

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OneWeb’s Ben Griffin Explains How LEO Satellites Address Capacity, Throughput Needs for In-flight Internet

OneWeb VP of Mobility Services Ben Griffin is the guest on this episode of the Connected Aviation Intelligence Podcast.

On this episode of the Connected Aviation Intelligence Podcast, Ben Griffin, Vice President of Mobility Services, OneWeb, joins to discuss how the introduction of their Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite could provide a paradigm shift for in-flight internet service in the near future.

Last week, Eutelsat and OneWeb reached an agreement to combine, bringing together satellite assets in Geostationary Orbit (GEO) and Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) for multi-orbit service. Since this interview was conducted on the day of this major announcement, the discussion does not focus on the Eutelsat-OneWeb agreement; however, Griffin does provide some initial reaction on how the partnership might benefit their plans for in-flight connectivity (IFC) in the future toward the end of the conversation.

Griffin does explain why their LEO constellation a perfect match for IFC service because of the amount of capacity the systems will make available, low latency, and global coverage, including over the polar regions. The OneWeb executive also provides perspective on how the company is evaluating the results of a recent test of their partially completed LEO network conducted on a Boeing 777.

Listen to this episode below, or check it out on iTunes or Google Play. If you like the show, subscribe on your favorite podcast app to get new episodes as soon as they’re released.

The post OneWeb’s Ben Griffin Explains How LEO Satellites Address Capacity, Throughput Needs for In-flight Internet appeared first on Aviation Today.

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How Transportation Departments Are Using Advanced Drone Technology for Infrastructure Inspections

Autonomous drones like those developed by Skydio can be useful for inspecting critical infrastructure such as bridges. (Photo: Skydio)

Departments of Transportation are increasingly using autonomous drones for monitoring and performing inspections of critical infrastructure such as bridges and highways. An autonomous drone can eliminate the need for a manual inspection which can be difficult and dangerous. Autonomous drone inspections are also less expensive to perform. Departments of Transportation (DOTs) in Alaska, North Carolina, New York, and other states have found that using autonomous drone technology to monitor and inspect infrastructure can improve workflow efficiency and lower costs. 

Autonomous drones, such as those developed by the company Skydio, can easily be operated by less experienced pilots. “They are a lot easier to fly than a traditional manual drone,” according to David Buhrman, Senior Solutions Engineer.

Skydio closed $100 million in Series C funding in the summer of 2020. Shortly after that, the Defense Innovation Unit approved a version of the X2 model, along with four other drones, as trusted purchases for government customers. In the summer of 2021, the FAA granted BNSF Railway approval to remotely operate dock-based Skydio drones for BVLOS operations, including infrastructure inspection.

The unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) program within Alaska’s DOT frequently employs drones to perform routine inspections of infrastructure. Ryan Marlow, UAS Program Coordinator, Statewide Aviation for the Alaska Department of Transportation (AKDOT), remarked that they perform an average of 8–12 bridge inspections each day. 

AKDOT’s UAS program team currently uses Skydio’s autonomous drones for infrastructure inspections. They have had particular success using the Skydio 3D Scan software that automates the data capture process for generating 3D models of infrastructure. “This has been a fantastic breakthrough for us—to take all of that data and visualize it, and do change detection,” Marlow shared during a webinar hosted by AUVSI (Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International) last week.

He commented that the interface of the 3D Scan software is easy to use. “We’re seeing a lot of success with the 3D Scan with our engineers in the field.”

They first used the technology to perform an autonomous 3D scan on a pedestrian bridge over a creek in Juneau. Although the bridge had undergone numerous manual inspections, the drone captured visuals of a previously undetected structural issue that needed repair. “We were able to see something leaking out of the timbers,” Marlow said. “It allowed us to capture this environment in a way that we’d never been able to visualize.”

Skydio’s 2+ model was launched earlier this year at CES. (Photo: Skydio)

The data collected via autonomous drones is also useful for measuring changes in critical infrastructure over time, which helps the AKDOT to prioritize the most urgent repairs. 

Skydio’s UAS uses six 4K cameras working in tandem to visualize its surroundings, explained David Buhrman of Skydio. Navigation is supported by deep learning algorithms and advanced predictive artificial intelligence to make decisions. The Skydio Autonomy Enterprise enables close proximity obstacle avoidance which is particularly useful for safely capturing data during infrastructure inspections.

In 2020, North Carolina’s DOT was granted approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate Skydio drones beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) for bridge inspections. This followed extensive collaboration between NCDOT, Skydio, and the FAA. A key advantage of Skydio’s technology is that its drones do not require GPS, making them ideal for inspections of the more than 13,500 bridges in the state of North Carolina.

The Skydio 2 model was the company’s entry into the consumer market. They quickly realized that it would be useful for enterprise solutions. The Skydio 2+ model, an updated version, was introduced at the end of 2021. It offers “360 degrees of obstacle avoidance based on nine onboard deep neural networks,” stated Buhrman. “We use these networks to identify things like, for motion tracking, people and vehicles.”

He described the enterprise edition, Skydio X2, as an “enterprise workhorse, a ‘ruggedized’ alternative to the 2+.” The X2 model was released last year along with the Skydio Enterprise Controller. The airframe construction of the X2 is based on magnesium and carbon fiber composites, and the controller is built with high-impact plastics as well as a protective cover and built-in antenna.

Skydio’s X2 model was designed to be more rugged for providing enterprise solutions. (Photo: Skydio)

Skydio partnered with DroneDeploy a few months ago to automate the data analysis process. Imagery from the Skydio Cloud is imported to the DroneDeploy platform for immediate processing, Buhrman explained.

“Under Part 107, the FAA does require a remote pilot in command to be present with the aircraft that can see attitude, altitude, and position of the aircraft at all times,” he remarked. “There is no directive about flying in an automated fashion, as long as the pilot can take over for manual flight in an emergency situation.”

Sean Nordstrom, Product Marketing Manager for Skydio, described some of the limitations of manual drone inspections. It is challenging to operate around low bridges, for example, and it is also difficult to operate in a GPS-denied environment. “Prohibitively high pilot skill is required, and manual drones are expensive,” he said.

Enabling BVLOS drone flight is also expensive, and it is notoriously difficult to receive a waiver from the FAA for BVLOS operations. Ground-based surveillance radar, another option, is expensive as well.

Transportation and other individual state agencies throughout the U.S. have been increasingly adopting the use of drones for infrastructure and asset inspections as well.

In partnership with the nonprofit NUAIR, the New York State Thruway Authority launched a pilot program to use drones to perform highway bridge inspections. UAS have the potential to examine components of bridges and other infrastructure that would be difficult to inspect manually, according to the Federal Highway Administration. According to the NYS Thruway Authority’s announcement about the pilot program, drones may improve safety for inspectors and lower overall inspection costs. Another benefit of using UAS is the digital images and video that the aircraft can capture.

The West Virginia Department of Transportation (WVDOT) has also used drones to improve safety and efficiency in performing aggregate stockpile inspections. The department stores numerous large piles of crushed rock, gravel, and other materials for use in road building and maintenance. Having a crew physically survey and inventory the stockpiles was inefficient and dangerous.

Following an initial $25,000 investment into drone equipment and pilots, the WVDOT calculated that the savings from just one month of using drones to survey stockpiles totaled more than $343,000. Manual surveying required 15 days of work by 42 employees, whereas the same workload was completed by 7 drone pilots over 9 days.

The WVDOT may expand its drone programs to perform road safety assessments and to assist in designing new road routes by providing topographical maps.

The post How Transportation Departments Are Using Advanced Drone Technology for Infrastructure Inspections appeared first on Aviation Today.

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11 Companies Are Developing High-Speed VTOL Concepts for U.S. Air Force Research Grants

AFWERX awarded Phase 1 contracts to 11 companies for the development of high-speed vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft. One of these companies, Horizon Aircraft, recently announced the successful completion of the Phase I contract. Pictured above is Horizon’s Cavorite X-series VTOL concept. (Photo, courtesy of Horizon Aircraft)

The U.S. Air Force’s AFWERX program initiated a market research program last year to encourage development of a high-speed vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft. The AFWERX challenge accepted submissions from more than 200 companies that designed high-speed VTOL (HSVTOL) concepts.

Eleven companies were chosen by AFWERX for a Phase 1 contract award and received financial aid. Phase 1 began in January 2022 and concluded at the end of June. Bell Textron is one of the companies selected for the Phase 1 contract. Bell, a subsidiary of Textron Inc., partnered with NASA earlier this year to demonstrate detect-and-avoid capabilities of its unmanned Autonomous Pod Transport (APT) aircraft.

Some of the other recipients of a Phase 1 contract award were Whisper, Jetoptera, Continuum Dynamics, VerdeGo Aero, Valkyrie, Transcend Air, American Aerospace Engineering, and Jaunt Air Mobility.

Dr. Reid Melville, Chief Innovation Officer at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Transformational Capabilities Office, remarked, “The HSVTOL Concept Challenge has surfaced an impressive range and caliber of solutions to help us understand how to build a new class of air vehicles.”

As revealed last week, one of the 11 recipients—Horizon Aircraft—has successfully completed Phase 1 of the challenge as it continues to develop its Cavorite X-series VTOL aircraft.

Horizon’s patented fan-in-wing design for vertical lift (Photo: Horizon Aircraft)

The HSVTOL Challenge was created to develop an aircraft capable of flying 400 knots (740 km/h) and conducting missions such as personnel extraction and aeromedical evacuation. Phase 3 of the challenge will enable development of a full-scale technical demonstrator that could replace the Air Force’s CV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, which has a maximum speed of 280 knots, or about 519 km/h.

Horizon Aircraft targeted regional air mobility and journeys of 200+ miles in developing its initial concept. E. Brandon Robinson, Horizon’s CEO, noted that their patented technology is unique amongst others in the VTOL space. The vertical lift system includes a patented fan-in-wing design that enables high-speed flight and long-distance flight capabilities. “It flies 98% of its mission as a normal aircraft; you wouldn’t even know it was a VTOL,” he told Avionics International.

Horizon’s X5 Cavorite is a hybrid-electric VTOL aircraft, powered by a gas engine and advanced electric motors. It will be capable of carrying four passengers in addition to the pilot, and will have 1,100 pounds of useful load.

Regarding the HSVTOL Challenge, Robinson said, “AFWERX should be praised for accomplishing its mission. It’s designed to leverage innovative products and accelerate innovation by making these public-private partnerships accessible. And we got to accelerate our development—it’s very much a win-win scenario.”

He remarked that AFWERX’s goal is to assess new technologies and evaluate what could be used to increase overall capability. For successful companies, the HSVTOL Challenge will support further development of the selected technologies through the Phase 2 and Phase 3 contract awards over the next few years.

“AFWERX has done a fantastic job,” Robinson commented. “It was a very positive experience, and we received a lot of excellent feedback that directly helped improve our design.”

The request for proposal (RFP) for Phase 2 is expected to be issued this fall, and the 11 awardees from Phase 1 will be able to respond to the RFP. Phase 2 will provide additional non-dilutive grant financing and will take place over a nine-month period, likely starting in the first quarter of 2023.

Following Phase 2, the Phase 3 contract award will take place in the 30 months following Phase 2 to support the development of a full-scale technical demonstrator, according to Robinson.

Horizon Aircraft’s current product is a 50% scale prototype with a 22-foot wingspan and a weight of roughly 500 pounds. The full-scale version will be about 4,000 pounds.

Though the Cavorite X-series is a hybrid aircraft, Robinson says that they will develop an all-electric aircraft “when batteries get to the point where it starts to make sense at the regional level.”

CEO of Horizon, E. Brandon Robinson, pictured above with a prototype of the Cavorite X-series VTOL (Photo: Horizon Aircraft)

Horizon Aircraft has entered into technical partnerships with multiple aerospace companies, according to Robinson. The company also received funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) as part of a three-year collaboration with Fleming College and Ontario Tech University. Horizon Aircraft merged with Astro Aerospace in 2021.

The post 11 Companies Are Developing High-Speed VTOL Concepts for U.S. Air Force Research Grants appeared first on Aviation Today.

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