Wright tests its 2-megawatt electric engines for passenger planes

Just like the automotive industry, aerospace has its sights set on going electric — but flying with battery-powered engines is a tougher proposition than rolling. Wright is among the startups looking to change the math and make electrified flight possible at scales beyond small aircraft — and its 2-megawatt engine could power the first generation of large-scale electric passenger planes.

Electric cars have proven to be a huge success, but they have an advantage over planes in that they don’t need to produce enough lift to keep their own mass in the air. Electric planes have been held back by this fundamental conundrum, that the weight of the batteries needed to fly any distance with passengers aboard means the plane is too heavy to fly in the first place.

In order to escape this conundrum, the main thing to improve is efficiency: how much thrust can be produced per watt of power. Since reducing the mass of batteries is a long, slow process, it’s better to innovate in other ways: materials, airframe, and of course the engine, which in traditional jets is a huge, immensely heavy and complex internal combustion one.

Electric engines are generally lighter, simpler, and more reliable than fuel-powered ones, but in order to achieve flight you need to reach a certain level of efficiency. After all, if a jet burned a thousand gallons of fuel per second, the plane couldn’t hold the amount needed to take off. So it falls to companies like Wright and H3x to build electric engines that can produce more thrust from the same amount of stored energy.

While H3x is focused on small aircraft that will probably be taking flight sooner, Wright founder Jeff Engler explained that if you want to take on aerospace’s carbon footprint, you really have to start looking at commercial passenger jets — and Wright is planning to make one. Fortunately, despite the company’s name, they don’t need to build it entirely from scratch.

“We’re not reinventing the concept of the wing, or the fuselage, or anything like that. What changes is what propels the aircraft forward,” said Engler. He likened it to electric vehicles in that much of the car doesn’t change when you go electric, mainly the parts that have operated the same way in principle for a century. All the same, integrating a new propulsion system into a plane isn’t trivial.

Wright’s engine is a 2 megawatt motor that produces the equivalent of 2,700 horsepower, at an efficiency of around 10 kilowatts per kilogram. “It’s the most powerful motor designed for the electric aerospace industry by a factor of 2, and it’s substantially lighter than anything out there,” said Engler.

The lightness comes from a ground-up redesign using a permanent magnet approach with “an aggressive thermal strategy,” he explained. A higher voltage than is normally employed for aerospace purposes and an insulation system to match enable an engine that hits the power and efficiency levels required to put a large plane in flight.

CG render of a plane using Wright's engines

Image Credits: Wright

Wright is making sure its engines can be used by retrofitted aircraft, but it’s also working on a plane of its own with established airframe makers. This first craft would be a hybrid electric, combining the lightweight, efficient propulsion stack with the range of a liquid fuel engine. Relying on hydrogen complicates things but it makes for a much faster transition to electric flight and a huge reduction in emissions and fuel use.

Several of Wright’s motors would be attached to each wing of the proposed aircraft, providing at least two benefits. First, redundancy. Planes with two huge engines are designed to be capable of flying even if one fails. If you have six or eight engines, one failing isn’t nearly so catastrophic, and as a consequence the plane doesn’t need to carry twice as much engine as you need. Second is the stability and noise reduction that comes from having multiple engines that can be adjusted individually or in concert to reduce vibration and counteract turbulence.

Right now the motor is in lab testing at sea level, and once it passes those tests (some time next year is the plan) it will be run in an altitude simulation chamber and then up at 40,000 feet for real. This is a long term project, but an entire industry doesn’t change overnight.

Engler was emphatic about the enthusiasm and support the company has received from the likes of NASA and the military, both of which have provided considerable cash, material and expertise. When I brought up the idea that the company’s engine might end up in a new bombing drone, he said he was sensitive to that possibility, but that what he’s seen (and is aiming for) is much more in line with the defense department’s endless cargo and personnel flights. The military is a huge polluter, it turns out, and they want to change that — and cut down on how much money they spend on fuel every year as well.

“Think of how things changed when we went from propellers to jets,” said Engler. “It redefined how an airplane operates. This new propulsion tech allows for reshaping the entire industry.”

#aerospace, #aircraft, #aviation, #electric-aircraft, #electric-aviation, #electric-vehicles, #gadgets, #hardware, #startups, #tc

YC grad Buoyant wants to solve middle-mile delivery with cargo airships

A number of companies have emerged in recent years aiming to resurrect the airship, an early technology that was abandoned in favor of airplanes and helicopters.

Flying Whales in France, Hybrid Air Vehicles in the U.K., Lockheed Martin and billionaire Sergey Brin all have airship projects in development, particularly focused on carrying cargo. None have yet started servicing customers.

Buoyant wants to be the first.

The startup graduated from Y Combinator this year with the goal of building small unmanned airships to move middle-mile cargo. Think depot-to-depot delivery, rather than depot-to-home. The two founders, Ben Claman and Joe Figura, say they can cut the cost of delivery in half, relative to flights performed by small planes or helicopters. And they say they’ll succeed where others have stalled by staying small — instead of building massive, multi-hundred-foot airships that need a lot of capital to build and a lot of gas to lift, Buoyant’s final vehicle will only be around 60 feet long.

Claman and Figura are two MIT hardware engineers who cut their teeth building spacecraft and antennas. Both had worked on projects with previous employers that involved providing low-cost connectivity to remote places, like Alaska (Claman also grew up there).

Image Credits: Buoyant. Buoyant founders Joe Figura and Ben Claman.

“What [Joe and I] were talking about when we were working at these companies was how hard it is to get actual goods to these places, not just the internet,” Claman said. “In these places, people are shopping online, they’re getting things sent to them. They sometimes have to wait weeks or months for them to arrive.”

Claman added when the company started YC, they had imagined building an airship that’s closer to their existing prototype — a small craft capable of doing last-mile deliveries for Amazon, for example.

“We’ve talked to a bunch of companies, and it seemed like from talking to them, that rural middle-mile is a much bigger problem than rural last-mile. Let’s say you have 5,000 people living in a community, you can basically subcontract the postal service to one of those people to do the last-mile delivery. … But getting the parcels from your main hub to that place is actually really challenging and really, really expensive.”

To solve that problem, Buoyant developed a “hybrid” battery electric airship, meaning that it generates around 70% of its lift using lighter-than-air gas — in this case, helium. The remaining 30% of the lift comes from its tilt-rotor architecture. This hybrid design is what Buoyant says solves the notoriously difficult problem of dropping off cargo – difficult because as airships offload weight, they risk shooting back up into the air. The tilt-rotor allows the airship to operate closer to a helicopter during takeoff and landing.

But where helicopters need to be capable of lifting their weight — anywhere from 1,500 to 10,000 pounds of carbon fiber and stainless steel — Buoyant’s airship will only need to lift the weight of the payload itself and its airframe. Not only do Buoyant’s founders say this saves on capital costs, but they’re developing the ship to eventually run autonomously, so the company won’t have to use pilots.

Buoyant has built and flown four prototype airships. The most recent sub-scale ship that went to air is 20 feet long, with airspeeds of up to 35 miles per hour and a payload capacity of 10 pounds, but the ultimate aim is to build an airship that’s capable of delivering up to 650 pounds of cargo at a cruise speed of around 60 miles per hour.

The airship has been operating under a Part 107 license. Before the company can start serving customers, it will need to achieve two certifications: a type certification verifying the airworthiness of the craft and operator certifications for the groups flying them. “Both require a lot of flight hours, which will be our main development activity,” Figura said on HackerNews.

Looking ahead, the company is planning to continue iterating its flight control system and doing a field demo with the sub-scale prototype in the coming months. Buoyant wants to build a full-scale version next year, which Claman said they will likely manufacture in-house.

These next few steps will be crucial for Buoyant to turn letters of intent worth $5 million that it has signed with several potential customers —  including from an Alaskan regional air carrier — into official contracts.

Buoyant also has two pilot programs in the pipeline: one with the sub-scale prototype this fall, and the second with the full-scale ship in a year’s time, both with logistics/parcel delivery companies.

“People were building blimps before computers, people were building blimps before they really understood aerodynamics, so we have some advantage there on just the length of time that people have been building airships,” Claman added. “There’s a lot of data out there. It’s not like airship development has stopped. People have been developing airships continuously, basically, over 100 years.”

#airship, #aviation, #buoyant, #lockheed-martin, #sergey-brin, #transportation

Judge denies Wisk Aero’s request for preliminary injunction against Archer Aviation

Electric aviation startup Wisk Aero’s request for a preliminary injunction against rival Archer Aviation was denied by a federal judge Thursday, the latest in an ongoing legal battle over whether Archer stole trade secrets in developing its flagship Maker aircraft.

A full written opinion has not yet been published. In a tentative ruling filed earlier this week, Judge William Orrick said Wisk’s “evidence of misappropriation is too equivocal to warrant a preliminary injunction.” Wisk filed for the injunction in May; if it had been approved, it would have effectively put an immediate halt to Archer’s operations.

Wisk submitted to the court 52 trade secrets it alleges were stolen and used by Archer, and the injunction would have prevented Archer from using any of them until a final decision was issued in the suit. It’s an extraordinary request and it makes sense that Orrick would need to see more certain evidence of misappropriation.

“There are some arguable indications of misappropriation, but given how equivocal the evidence is, Wisk is not entitled to the extraordinary remedy of an injunction,” Orrick said in the tentative ruling. “Because the merits are so uncertain, Wisk has also not adequately shown irreparable injury based on misappropriation. And the balance of hardships favors Archer because, without solid evidence of misappropriation, an injunction would gravely threaten its business.”

Wisk says the judge’s decision on the injunction has no bearing on the outcome of the case “and does not exonerate Archer in the least.”

“We brought this lawsuit based on strong indications of theft and use of Wisk’s IP, and the initial limited evidence gathered through the court process to date only confirms our belief that Archer’s misappropriation of Wisk’s trade secrets is widespread and pervades Archer’s aircraft development,” Wisk continued. “Following today’s ruling, Wisk will be allowed to begin collecting evidence in earnest.”

Wisk was established in 2019 as a joint venture between Kitty Hawk and Boeing, but its history with electric aviation stretches back much further. The company was originally founded in 2010 as Levt, which eventually merged with sister company Kitty Hawk. Wisk says it (as Kitty Hawk) zeroed in on a fixed-wing, 12-rotor design in 2016. It’s this design that’s the centerpiece of its debut aircraft, Cora.

Archer, by contrast, is newer to the field. Much of Wisk’s original complaint, filed in April, is predicated on the speed with which Archer is bringing its air taxi service to market. Archer also recruited many former Wisk engineers — including former employee Jing Xue, whom Wisk says downloaded nearly 5,000 files before his departure from the company, which it alleges he handed over to Archer.

When he was cross-examined, Xue pled the Fifth Amendment, invoking his right to not self-incriminate, citing an ongoing federal investigation.

Archer says Wisk has not brought forward any substantive evidence of the central claim of the lawsuit: that Archer received and used Wisk trade secrets. Wisk’s allegations are based on “conspiracy theories and outright misrepresentations,” Archer’s Deputy General Counsel Eric Lentell said.

“It is clear to us from Wisk’s actions in this case that after recognizing Archer’s momentum and pace of innovation, Wisk began abusing the judicial and criminal justice system in an attempt to slow us down to compensate for its own lack of success,” Archer co-founders Brett Adcock and Adam Goldstein said.

The court will hold a scheduling conference on August 11, where the judge will outline next steps for the case. A date for the trial has not been set.

The case is filed in the California Northern District Court under case no. 3:2021cv02450.

#aerospace, #archer-aviation, #aviation, #evtol, #lawsuit, #tc, #transportation, #urban-air-mobility, #wisk-aero

The air taxi market prepares to take flight

Twelve years ago, Joby Aviation consisted of a team of seven engineers working out of founder JoeBen Bevirt’s ranch in the Santa Cruz mountains. Today, the startup has swelled to 800 people and a $6.6 billion valuation, ranking itself as the highest-valued electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) company in the industry.

As in any disruptive industry, the forecast may be cloudier than the rosy picture painted by passionate founders and investors.

It’s not the only air taxi company to reach unicorn status. The field is now dotted with new or soon-to-be publicly traded companies courtesy of mergers and special purpose acquisition companies. Partnerships with major automakers and airlines are on the rise, and CEOs have promised commercialization as early as 2024.

As in any disruptive industry, the forecast may be cloudier than the rosy picture painted by passionate founders and investors. A quick peek at comments and posts on LinkedIn reveals squabbles among industry insiders and analysts about when this emerging technology will truly take off and which companies will come out ahead.

Other disagreements have higher stakes. Wisk Aero filed a lawsuit against Archer Aviation alleging trade secret misappropriation. Meanwhile, valuations for companies that have no revenue yet to speak of — and may not for the foreseeable future — are skyrocketing.

Electric air mobility is gaining elevation. But there’s going to be some turbulence ahead.

Big goals and bigger expenses

Taking an eVTOL from design through to manufacturing and certification will likely cost about $1 billion, Mark Moore, then-head of Uber Elevate, estimated in April 2020 during a conference held by the Air Force’s Agility Prime program.

That means in some sense, the companies that will come out on top will likely be the ones that have managed to raise enough money to pay for all the expenses associated with engineering, certification, manufacturing and infrastructure.

“The startups that have successfully raised or that will be able to raise significant amounts of capital to get them through the certification process … that’s the number one thing that’s going to separate the strong from the weak,” Asad Hussain, a senior analyst in mobility technology at PitchBook, told TechCrunch. “There’s over 100 startups in the space. Not all of them are going to be able to do that.”

Just consider some of the expenses accrued by the biggest eVTOLs last year: Joby Aviation spent a whopping $108 million on research and development, a $30 million increase from 2019. Archer spent $21 million in R&D in 2020, according to regulatory filings. Meanwhile, Joby’s net loss last year was $114.2 million and Archer’s was $24.8 million, though, of course, neither company has brought a product to market yet. Operating expenses will likely only continue to grow into the future as companies enter into manufacturing and deployment phases.

What that means for the future of the industry is likely two things: more SPAC deals and more acquisitions.

Mobility companies, including those working on electrified transport, are often pre-revenue and have capitally intensive business models — a combination that can make it difficult to find buyers in a traditional IPO. SPACs have become increasingly popular as a shorter, less expensive path to becoming a public company. SPACs have also historically received less scrutiny than IPOs. Should the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission start to take a closer look at SPAC mergers in the future, it may impair the ability of other air taxi companies to go public this way, Hussain said.

That means market consolidation is nearly guaranteed, as smaller companies may find it more advantageous to sell than continue to raise more capital. It’s already begun: At the end of April, eVTOL developer Astro Aerospace announced the acquisition of Horizon Aircraft.

Horizon cited “greater access to capital” as one of the many benefits of the transaction, and other companies will likely find the buy or sell route to be the most beneficial on the road to commercialization. And just last week, British eVTOL Vertical Aerospace, which has an order for 150 aircraft from Virgin Atlantic, said it would go public via a merger with Broadstone Acquisition Corp. at an equity value of around $2.2 billion.

#aerospace, #air-taxi, #aviation, #ec-mobility-hardware, #electric-aircraft, #evtol, #joby-aviation, #startups, #tc, #transportation, #venture-capital, #volocopter, #wisk-aero

Aviation in 2030: Fuel-guzzling supersonic planes or electric air taxis?

Joby Aviation's electric aircraft takes off for a test flight.

Enlarge / Joby Aviation’s electric aircraft takes off for a test flight. (credit: Joby Aviation)

Over the last two days, two companies have outlined radically different—yet oddly familiar—visions for the future of air travel.

One idea is built around a buzzing network of small, electrically powered vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft ferrying commuters in and out of dense urban areas, a tantalizing vision prophesied since at least the 1950s. The other vision bets on a fleet of a few dozen supersonic airliners jetting well-heeled travelers from one global city to another, a dream that many thought died with the Concorde some 20 years ago.

Oddly, it’s the flying cars that seem closer to reality this time. Yesterday, Joby Aviation announced another step in its plan to bring eVTOL services to the masses. The company has signed an agreement with two real estate companies, Neighborhood Property Group and Reef Technology (the latter is a sort of WeWork for non-office commercial real estate), to allow rooftop access to Reef’s 5,000 parking garages in the US and Europe. By comparison, there are about 5,600 US heliports, which are managed by a patchwork of owners.

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#aviation, #concorde, #electric-aircraft, #flying-cars, #science, #supersonic-flight, #vtol

United Airlines agrees to purchase 15 Boom supersonic airliners

United Airlines is the first official U.S. customer for Boom Supersonic, a company focused on making supersonic commercial flight a reality once again. Boom unveiled its supersonic sub-scale testing aircraft last year, and intends to start producing its Overture full-scale commercial supersonic passenger jet beginning in 2025, with a planned 2029 date for the beginning of commercial service after a few years of flight testing, design refinement and qualification.

United agreed to purchase 15 of the Overture aircraft, provided they meet United’s “safety, operating and sustainability requirements,” and the agreement also includes an option for the airline to purchase an additional 35 after that. United is obviously interested in the benefits of supersonic flight, which aims to reduce travel times by half, but it’s also looking to boost its sustainability profile with this deal with Boom.

Boom’s goal is to be the first commercial aircraft that runs on net-zero carbon footprint fuel right from day one. The company is focused on sourcing and using 100% sustainable aviation fuel, and part of the arrangement between the two companies includes United working in collaboration with the startup to develop and improve production sources for that sustainable fuel.

U.S. airlines committed jointly to a goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and as part of that they agreed to partner with government and other stakeholders to accelerate the development and commercialization of sustainable aviation fuel, so this team-up with Boom could be a key driver of those aims for United long-term.

#aerospace, #aircraft, #airline, #aviation, #boom-supersonic, #boom-technology, #concorde, #driver, #sound, #tc, #transport, #united-airlines, #united-states

Portside raises $17M for its business aviation management platform

Portside, an aviation startup that is building a platform for managing the backend of a corporate flight department, charter operation, government fleet and fractional ownership operation, today announced that it has raised a $17 million funding round led by Tiger Global Management, with participation from existing investors I2BF Global Ventures and SOMA Capital.

The idea behind Portside, which was founded in 2018, is that it lets business aviation companies and flight departments manage everything from flight operations to maintenance, crew and staff scheduling, expense management for crew members and staff, and financial data to help them operate more efficiently. It’s basically everything you need to run your flight department in a single solution, but it also integrates with virtually all of the existing scheduling, accounting, expense management and maintenance tools a flight department or fractional ownership operation is likely using today.

Image Credits: Portside

While the COVID pandemic put a halt to most forms of private aviation early on, that market saw a quick rebound. Portside says it saw its revenue grow almost 300% in 2020 and that it added more than 50 aircraft operators in multiple countries to its user base.

“This infusion of new capital will be used to accelerate investment in product innovation, support further engagement with large enterprise customers and grow our global engineering and customer success teams,” said Alek Vernitsky, co-founder and CEO of Portside. “We appreciate the strong support we have received from both our existing and new investors in this round. They have collectively demonstrated their confidence in our strategy and intentional approach to cloud-based digital transformation of the global business aviation industry.”

Portside is not alone in this market. Companies like Fl3xx, for example, offer similar solutions for flight departments and at the lower end, tools like Flight Circle offer a subset of these features for general aviation clubs and partnerships.

“Portside has progressed rapidly since inception and is entering the next stage of fulfilling its vision of becoming the undisputed leader in cloud-based solutions for business aviation,” stated John Curtius, partner at Tiger Global Management. “In our view, Portside represents the future of the industry, and we are pleased to partner with a company we believe will continue to create significant value for many years to come.”

#aviation, #expense-management, #fractional-ownership, #ownership, #portside, #recent-funding, #soma-capital, #startups, #tc, #tiger-global-management, #transportation

Wisk Aero files injunction in trade secret lawsuit against Archer Aviation

Electric aviation company Wisk Aero filed a motion for a preliminary injunction Wednesday in its ongoing lawsuit with rival electric air travel startup Archer Aviation. The injunction could put a serious wrench in Archer’s operations should the courts approve it.

Wisk has asked the court to immediately prohibit Archer from using 52 trade secrets that it alleges were stolen by former employees who were later hired by Archer. The trade secrets “span the gamut of systems within the aircraft and processes for development,” a Wisk spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Archer did not respond to a request for comment by press time. TechCrunch will update the story if they do.

Given the widespread subject matter of the trade secrets, an injunction would likely limit Archer’s operations. The courts have not yet ruled on whether Archer misappropriated trade secrets, as Wisk alleged in its original filing on April 6. Wisk says it discovered the trade secret theft after it sent the work laptops of a departing employee to an outsider investigator, who discovered that the employee had downloaded nearly 5,000 files. This employee is now a senior power electronics engineer at Archer.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Justice is conducting a separate federal investigation into Archer based on Wisk’s trade secret allegations.

Archer said in a filing with the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission that it had “placed an employee on paid administrative leave in connection with a government investigation and a search warrant issued to the employee.”

The injunction hearing has not been scheduled. It will likely occur within the next few days due to the nature of the request. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California under case no. 5:21-cv-2450.

#aerospace, #archer-aviation, #aviation, #electric-planes, #evtol, #lawsuit, #tc, #transportation, #urban-air-mobility, #wisk-aero

Airbus taps Luminar to test how lidar could be used to make flying safer and autonomous

Luminar Technologies is expanding its lidar business beyond automotive and into aviation through a partnership with Airbus. The collaboration with the French aerospace giant, which was announced Monday morning, marks the latest in a string of partnership announcements between Luminar and companies like Daimler, Volvo and Mobileye. Until now, these have exclusively focused on applying its light detection and ranging radar to automated vehicles on the ground — not in the skies.

The partnership won’t bring lidar into commercial aircraft. Unlike Luminar’s deal with Daimler, Mobileye and Volvo this is not a production contract. Instead, the partnership is with Airbus’ UpNext subsidiary, which is focused on developing and eventually applying new technological breakthroughs to aviation. The effort will be folded into Airbus Flightlab, an ecosystem that offers access to flight test platforms across Airbus’ business lines, including commercial aircraft, helicopters, defense and space. Luminar and Airbus will develop and test how lidar can be used to enhance sensing, perception and system-level capabilities to ultimately enable safe, autonomous flight, the companies said.

“We’re able to directly re-apply what we’ve accomplished for the automotive industry into aviation, an established nearly $1 trillion industry,” Luminar founder and CEO Austin Russell said in a statement Monday. “We believe that automation and safety enhancements will transform how we move across all modes of transport as we take our technology from roads to the skies. We look forward to accelerating our shared vision to define the future of flying.”

Lidar, which measures distance using laser light to generate a highly accurate 3D map of the world, is considered by most in the autonomous vehicle industry critical to commercial deployment. Automakers have also begun to view lidar as an important sensor to be used to expand the capabilities and safety of advanced driver assistance systems in new cars, trucks and SUVs available to consumers.

Airbus is interested in how Luminar’s lidar and perception stack can be used to automatically detect obstacles, a key step toward autonomous operation of aircraft such as urban air mobility vehicles. The companies said the sensor also has the potential to “substantially improve the safety of existing aircraft applications.”

Increasing helicopter safety is one of Airbus’ missions. The company said Monday it will introduce a number of new features to its helicopter Flightlab through a project code-named Vertex. These technologies, which include lidar and other sensors coupled with software for obstacle detection, fly-by-wire for enhanced auto-pilot and a touchscreen and head-worn display for inflight monitoring and control, aim to reduce helicopter pilot workload and increase safety. Airbus said that when combined, the system will be able to manage navigation and route preparation, automatic take-off and landing, as well as following a predefined flight path. The incremental integration of these technologies onto the helicopter Flightlab has begun ahead of a complete demonstration in 2023. Airbus said its Urban Air Mobility project will also benefit from this technology as a step toward autonomous flight.

Luminar, which burst onto the autonomous vehicle scene in April 2017 after operating for years in secrecy, became a publicly traded company in late 2020. The company announced in February that it would work with Volvo Cars to develop and eventually sell to other automakers an automated driving system for highways. The partnership, which is between Luminar and Volvo’s self-driving software subsidiary Zenseact, builds upon an existing relationship with Volvo. The two companies are combining their tech to create what Luminar founder and CEO Austin Russell described as a “holistic autonomous vehicle stack” made for production vehicles. Volvo will be the first customer. Russell and Zenseact CEO Ödgärd Andersson said at the time that they plan to also offer this system to other automakers.

Last year, ahead of its public debut, Luminar also locked in a supplier deal to furnish Intel subsidiary Mobileye with lidar for its fleet of autonomous vehicles. Under that contract, Luminar’s lidar will be part of Mobileye’s first-generation fleet of driverless vehicles, which are being piloted in Dubai, Tel Aviv, Paris, China and Daegu City, South Korea.

 

#airbus, #automotive, #aviation, #lidar, #luminar-technologies, #tc, #transportation

Universal Hydrogen raises $20.5M Series A to help launch hydrogen aviation

The race to decarbonize aviation got a boost this Earth Day with the announcement of a $20.5 million Series A round by Universal Hydrogen, a San Francisco-based startup aiming to develop hydrogen storage solutions and conversion kits for commercial aircraft.

“Hydrogen is the only viable path for aviation to reach Paris Agreement targets and help limit global warming,” said founder and CEO Paul Eremenko in an interview with TechCrunch. “We are going to build an end-to-end hydrogen value chain for aviation by 2025.”

The round was led by Playground Global, with an investor syndicate including Fortescue Future Industries, Coatue, Global Founders Capital, Plug Power, Airbus Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures, Sojitz Corporation and Future Shape.

The company’s first product will be lightweight modular capsules to transport “green hydrogen,” produced using renewable power to aircraft equipped with hydrogen fuel cells. The capsules will ultimately be available in different sizes for aircraft ranging from VTOL air taxis to long-distance, single-aisle planes.

“We want them to be interchangeable within each class of aircraft, a bit like consumer batteries today,” says Eremenko.

To help kickstart the market for its capsules, Universal Hydrogen is developing one such plane itself, a modified 19-seat turboprop capable of regional flights of up to 700 miles. The effort is a collaboration with Plug Power, which will supply the hydrogen and fuel cells, and seed investor magniX, which develops motors for electric aircraft.

Eremenko hopes to have the plane flying paying passengers by 2025, and ultimately to produce kits for regional airlines to retrofit their own aircraft.

“We want to have a couple of years of service to de-risk hydrogen certification and passenger acceptance before Boeing and Airbus decide on the airplanes they are going to build in the early 2030s,” says Eremenko. “It’s imperative that at least one of them build a hydrogen airplane or aviation is not going to hit its climate goals.”

Universal Hydrogen is not alone in betting on hydrogen. ZeroAvia in the U.K. is developing its own regional fuel cell aircraft on an even more ambitious timeline, and Airbus in particular has been working on hydrogen aircraft concepts.

Eremenko hopes that producing a simple and safe hydrogen logistics network will soon attract new entrants.

“It’s like the Nespresso system. We have to make the first coffee maker or nobody cares about our capsule technology, but we don’t want to be in the coffee maker business. We want other people to build coffee with our capsules.”

Universal Hydrogen will use the Series A funds to grow its current 12-person team to around 40 and accelerate its technology development.

30kW sub-scale demonstration of Universal Hydrogen’s aviation powertrain, with Plug Power’s hydrogen fuel cell and a magniX motor.

 

#aviation, #flight, #hydrogen-fuel, #playground-global, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #transportation, #universal-hydrogen

ZeroAvia’s hydrogen fuel cell plane ambitions clouded by technical challenges

When ZeroAvia’s six-seater aircraft completed an eight-minute flight from Cranfield Airfield in the U.K. last September, the company claimed a “major breakthrough” with the first-ever hydrogen fuel cell flight of a commercial-size aircraft.

The modified Piper Malibu propeller plane was now the largest hydrogen-powered aircraft in the world, wrote the company. “While some experimental aircraft have flown using hydrogen fuel cells, the size of this aircraft shows that paying passengers could be boarding a truly zero-emission flight very soon,” added Val Miftakhov, ZeroAvia’s CEO.

But just how hydrogen-powered was it, and how close is ZeroAvia to flying passengers?

“[In] this particular setup, not all the energy is coming from hydrogen,” said Miftakhov at a press conference directly afterwards. “There is a combination of the battery and hydrogen. But the way the battery and hydrogen fuel cells combine is such that we are able to fly purely on hydrogen.”

Miftakhov’s comments don’t quite tell the whole story. TechCrunch has learned that batteries provided the majority of the power required for the landmark flight, and will continue to feature heavily in ZeroAvia’s longer flights and new aircraft. And while the Malibu is technically still a passenger aircraft, ZeroAvia has had to replace four of the Malibu’s five passenger seats to accommodate bulky hydrogen tanks and other equipment.

In less than four years, ZeroAvia has gone from testing aircraft parts in pickup trucks to gaining the support of the U.K. government, and attracting investment from the likes of Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and — just last week — British Airways. Now the question is whether it can continue on its claimed trajectory and truly transform aviation.

Take off

Aviation currently accounts for 2.5% of humanity’s carbon emissions, and could grow to a quarter of the planet’s carbon budget by 2050. Biofuels can displace trees or food crops, while batteries are too heavy for anything more than short hops. Hydrogen, by contrast, can be generated using solar or wind power, and packs quite an energetic punch.

Fuel cells combine hydrogen with oxygen from the air in an efficient reaction that produces only electricity, heat and water. But that doesn’t mean you can simply drop a fuel cell into an existing aircraft. Fuel cells are heavy and complex, hydrogen requires bulky storage and there are many technical problems for startups to solve.

Russian-born Miftakhov arrived in America in 1997 to study for a physics doctorate. In 2012, after starting several companies and a stint at Google, he founded eMotorWerks (aka EMW) to produce electric conversion kits for the BMW 3-series.

But in 2013, BMW accused EMW of infringing its trademarks. Miftakhov agreed to change its logo and marketing materials, and to refrain from suggesting it was affiliated with the carmaker. He also found demand from BMW owners to be sluggish.

EMW then pivoted to providing chargers and a smart energy management platform. The new direction succeeded, and in 2017 Italian energy company Enel acquired EMW for a reported $150 million. But Miftakhov faced legal difficulties here, too.

George Betak, an EMW vice president, filed two civil lawsuits against Miftakhov alleging, among other things, that Miftakhov had left his name off patents, withheld money and even faked a document to make it seem as though Betak had assigned his intellectual property rights to EMW. Betak later withdrew some claims. The cases were quietly settled in the summer of 2020.

Weeks after selling EMW in 2017, Miftakhov incorporated ZeroAvia in San Carlos, California with the stated aim of “zero emissions aviation.” He was counting on the aviation industry being more interested in electrifying existing aircraft than BMW drivers had been.

First step: batteries

The first public outing for ZeroAvia was in October 2018 at Hollister Airport, 50 miles southwest of San Jose. Miftakhov mounted a propeller, an electric motor and batteries in the bed of a 1969 El Camino and took it up to 75 knots (85mph) on electric power.

In December, ZeroAvia bought a Piper PA-46 Matrix, a six-seater propeller plane very similar to the one it would later use in the U.K. Miftakhov’s team installed the motor and about 75kWh of lithium ion batteries — about the same as in an entry-level Tesla Model Y.

In February 2019, two days after the FAA granted it an experimental airworthiness certificate, the all-electric Piper took to the air. By mid-April, the Matrix was flying at its top speed and maximum power. It was ready to upgrade to hydrogen.

Import records show that ZeroAvia took delivery of a carbon fiber hydrogen tank from Germany in March. One company photo exists of the Matrix with a tank on its left wing, but ZeroAvia never released a video of it flying. Something had gone wrong.

In July, ZeroAvia’s R&D director posted a message on a forum for Piper owners: “We have damaged a wing of our Matrix, which we loved and pampered so much. The damage is so bad that it has to be replaced. Is anyone aware of [a suitable aircraft] that is going to be sold for parts any time soon?”

Miftakhov confirmed that the damage, not previously reported, occurred while ZeroAvia was reconfiguring the aircraft. That aircraft has not flown since, and ZeroAvia’s time as a Silicon Valley startup was coming to an end.

Moving to the UK

With ZeroAvia’s U.S. flight tests on hold, Miftakhov turned his attention to Britain, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson is banking on ”a new green industrial revolution.”

In September 2019, Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), a U.K. government-supported company, funded a ZeroAvia-led project called HyFlyer, with £2.68 million ($3.3 million). Miftakhov committed to deliver a hydrogen fuel cell Piper that could fly more than 280 miles, within a year. Sharing the money would be Intelligent Energy, a fuel cell maker, and the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), which would provide hydrogen fueling tech.

“ZeroAvia had proved the concept of retrofitting an electric power train into an aircraft and instead of powering it by batteries, they wanted to power it with hydrogen,” said Richard Ainsworth, EMEC’s hydrogen manager at the time. “That was the whole purpose of the HyFlyer project.”

Gary Elliott, CEO of ATI, told TechCrunch that it was “really important” to ATI that ZeroAvia was using fuel cells rather than a battery system: “You need to spread your investment profile, so that you’ve got as much likelihood of success as you can.”

ZeroAvia set up in Cranfield and in February 2020, bought a six-seater Piper Malibu, similar to the damaged Matrix. Although the company fitted and flew it with batteries by June, the government still needed reassuring. “I’d be happy to catch up and think about what we can do to address the concerns that are nagging away at the ATI,” wrote an official, according to an email obtained by TechCrunch under a freedom of information request.

Intelligent Energy CTO Chris Dudfield told TechCrunch that the HyFlyer program went smoothly, but that his company is still years away from flying a larger fuel cell and that he never even saw ZeroAvia’s plane.

ZeroAvia’s partnership with Intelligent Energy might have helped it secure U.K. government funding but it wasn’t going to help power the Malibu. ZeroAvia needed to find a fuel cell supplier — fast.

Second step: Fuel cell power

In August, ZeroAvia wrote to government officials that “we are now gearing up for our first hydrogen-powered flight,” and invited the Secretary of State to attend.

Miftakhov said that ZeroAvia’s demonstration flight used a 250 kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell powertrain — the largest ever in an aircraft. This is comparable in power to the internal combustion engine that Pipers typically use, giving a healthy margin of safety for the most demanding phase of flight: take off.

ZeroAvia never identified its fuel cell supplier, nor detailed how much of the 250kW came from the fuel cell.

However, the day after the demonstration flight, a Swedish company called PowerCell issued a press release stating that one PowerCell MS-100 fuel cell was “an integral part of the powertrain.”

The MS-100 generates a maximum power of just 100kW, leaving 150kW unaccounted for. This means the majority of the power needed for take-off could only have come from the Piper’s batteries.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Miftakhov acknowledged that the Piper could not have taken off on fuel cell power alone in the September flight. He said the plane’s batteries were probably operational for the entire demonstration flight, and provided “some additional safety margin for the aircraft.”

Many fuel cell vehicles use batteries, either to smooth out fluctuations or to boost power briefly, although some manufacturers have been more transparent about their sources of power. One problem with relying on batteries for take off is that the plane then has to carry them for the whole flight.

“The fundamental challenge for hydrogen fuel cell aircraft is weight,” said Paul Eremenko, CEO of Universal Hydrogen, which is collaborating on a 2000kW fuel cell powertrain for another aircraft. “One of the ways we save weight is having a much smaller battery that is only used when a pilot guns the throttle.”

In February, ZeroAvia’s vice president, Sergey Kiselev, said that the company’s goal was to do without batteries altogether. “Batteries may be used to provide an extra oomph during take off,” he told the Royal Aeronautical Society. “But if you use different types of propulsion or energy storage on the aircraft, the certification effort will be significantly harder.”

Relying heavily on batteries allowed ZeroAvia to pull off its high-profile demonstration flight for investors and the U.K. government, but could ultimately delay its first flights with paying passengers.

The problem of heat

Without an exhaust to expel waste heat, fuel cells usually need a complex air or liquid cooling system to avoid overheating

“This is really the key intellectual property, and why it isn’t just a matter of buying a fuel cell, buying a motor and plugging them together,” says Eremenko.

The German Aerospace Center in Cologne has been flying hydrogen fuel cell aircraft since 2012. Its current aircraft, the custom-designed HY4, can carry four passengers up to 450 miles. Its 65kW fuel cell has a liquid cooling system that uses a large, aerodynamically optimized channel for the cooling air flow (see picture).

A similar 100kW system would generally need a cooling intake longer and a third bigger than the HY4’s. ZeroAvia’s Piper Malibu has no additional cooling intakes at all.

“The openings look way too small for the air speed at take off, and even for cruise speed,” said an aviation fuel cell engineer who asked not to be named because they deal with some of the same companies as ZeroAvia.

“We had to experiment with the location and configuration of the heat exchangers… but we did not have to redesign the shape of the aircraft to handle the heat,” countered Miftakhov. He claims the fuel cell was operating at between 85 and 100kW during the flight.

Following TechCrunch’s interview with ZeroAvia, the company released a video that appears to show the Piper’s fuel cell operating at up to 70kW during a ground test, which could equate to a higher power level when airborne.

Although this still needs to be demonstrated with long-distance flights, ZeroAvia may have solved the heat problem that has dogged other engineers for years.

The next plane: bigger and better?

In September, aviation minister Robert Courts was at Cranfield to watch the demonstration flight. “It’s one of the most historic moments in aviation for decades, and it is a huge triumph for ZeroAvia,” he said after the flight. Time magazine named ZeroAvia’s technology as one of the best inventions of 2020.

Even with the HyFlyer extended flight still to come, in December the U.K. government announced HyFlyer 2 — a £12.3 million ($16.3 million) project for ZeroAvia to deliver a 600kW hydrogen-electric powertrain for a larger aircraft. ZeroAvia agreed to have a 19-seat plane ready for commercialization in 2023. (It now says 2024.)

On the same day, ZeroAvia announced its $21.3 million Series A investor lineup, including Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Ventures Fund, Jeff Bezos’ Amazon Climate Pledge Fund, Ecosystem Integrity Fund, Horizon Ventures, Shell Ventures and Summa Equity. It announced another $23.4 million raise from these investors, without Amazon but with British Airways, in late March.

Miftakhov said the Malibu has now completed about a dozen test flights, with the long-distance U.K. flight pushed to later this year, due to COVID delays. And as for HyFlyer 2, Miftakhov now says that this will initially use half batteries and half fuel cells, although “the final certifiable flight configuration will get its full 600kW from the fuel cells.”

There is no doubt that ZeroAvia is facing a steep climb to deliver its promised aircraft, starting with the 19-seater, then a 50-seater plane in 2026, and a 100-seater by 2030.

Hydrogen fuel cells still have a whiff of snake oil about them, thanks to Nikola, a startup that exaggerated a public demonstration of a hydrogen fuel cell truck, triggering a collapse in its share price and investigation by the SEC. The best option for ambitious start-ups like ZeroAvia is to be more transparent about their current technology and the challenges that lie ahead, even if that means tempering the expectations of investors and a public excited by the prospect of sustainable air travel.

“I desperately want ZeroAvia to be successful,” says Paul Eremenko. “I think we have very complementary business models and together we help complete the value chain to make hydrogen aviation happen.”

#aerospace, #aviation, #greentech, #hydrogen-fuel-cell, #tc, #transportation, #zeroavia

SITA says its airline passenger system was hit by a data breach

Global air transport data giant SITA has confirmed a data breach involving passenger data.

The company said in a brief statement on Thursday that it had been the “victim of a cyberattack,” and that certain passenger data stored on its U.S. servers had been breached. The cyberattack was confirmed on February 24, after which the company contacted affected airlines.

SITA is one of the largest aviation IT companies in the world, said to be serving around 90% of the world’s airlines, which rely on the company’s passenger service system Horizon to manage reservations, ticketing, and aircraft departures.

But it remains unclear exactly what data was accessed or stolen.

When reached, SITA spokesperson Edna Ayme-Yahil declined to say what specific data had been taken, citing an ongoing investigation. The company said that the incident “affects various airlines around the world, not just in the United States.”

SITA confirmed it had notified several airlines — Malaysia Airlines; Finnair; Singapore Airlines; and Jeju Air, an airline in South Korea — which have already made statements about the breach, but declined to name other affected airlines.

In an email to affected customers seen by TechCrunch, Singapore Airlines said it was not a customer of SITA’s Horizon passenger service system but that about half a million frequent flyer members had their membership number and tier status compromised. The airline said that the transfer of this kind of data is “necessary to enable verification of the membership tier status, and to accord to member airlines’ customers the relevant benefits while traveling.”

The airline said passenger itineraries, reservations, ticketing, and passport data were not affected.

SITA is one of a handful of companies in the aviation market providing passenger ticketing and reservation systems to airlines, alongside Sabre and Amadeus.

Sabre reported a major data breach in mid-2017 affecting its hotel reservation system, after hackers scraped over a million customer credit cards. The U.S.-based company agreed in December to a $2.4 million settlement and to make changes to its cybersecurity policies following the breach.

In 2019, a security researcher found a vulnerability in Amadeus’ passenger booking system, used by Air France, British Airways, and Qantas among others, which made it easy to alter or access traveler records.

#aerospace, #air-france, #airline, #airlines, #aviation, #british-airways, #horizon, #malaysia-airlines, #privacy, #qantas, #sabre, #security, #singapore-airlines, #sita, #south-korea, #spokesperson, #united-states

Supersonic jet company Aerion partners with NASA on high-speed point-to-point travel

Aerion has been working on ushering in a new era of commercial supersonic flight for nearly a decade now, and the company just revealed that it has signed a new partnership with NASA to put that experience to use in the pursuit of supersonic point-to-point travel – the technical name for putting the kind of high-speed flight typically associated with space launches to use in helping people move very quickly from one place on Earth to another.

The new collaboration comes via the Space Act Agreement, which basically allows NASA to enlist the aid of private companies to help it achieve its various goals. NASA has been developing high-Mach, supersonic aircraft technologies for some time now, in particular though its arrangement with Lockheed Martin to build and fly the X-59 QueSST, a demonstrator aircraft that will show how supersonic craft can also operate relatively quietly, with so-called ‘low-boom’ capabilities that avoid the loud sonic booms produced by most supersonic vehicles when they break the sound barrier.

NASA announced a similar partnership under the Space Act Agreement with Virgin Galactic last year, with the goal of helping the agency develop technologies that will assist in the eventual deployment of sustainable supersonic commercial flight. Aerion’s team-up with the agency will focus specifically on studying commercial flight capabilities in speeds ranging between Mach 3 and Mach 5, with a focus on propulsion and thermal management systems, power generation and technologies for use in the passenger and crew cabins.

Aerion’s own high-speed commercial aviation efforts are currently on track to see its AS2 private jet for business customers enter production in 2023, which will set the stage for its AS3 commercial supersonic passenger aircraft to follow after that.

This isn’t Aerion’s first team-up with NASA: The two have collaborated twice previously on similar projects, with the first collaboration begun way back in 2012. Now that Aerion’s closer to actual production, it’s likely that both partners will gain a lot towards their mutual goals of helping the U.S. develop commercially viable and sustainable supersonic passenger flight technologies.

#aerion, #aerospace, #aircraft, #aviation, #lockheed-martin, #science, #sound-barrier, #space, #tc, #transport, #united-states, #virgin-galactic

LanzaJet inks deal with British Airways for 7500 tons of fuel low emission fuel additive per year

LanzaJet, the renewable jet fuel startup spun out from the longtime renewable and synthetic fuel manufacturer, LanzaTech, has inked a supply agreement with British Airways to supply the company with at least 7500 tons of fuel additive per yer.

The deal marks the second agreement between the UK-based airline and a renewable jet fuels manufacturer following an August 2019 agreement with the British company Velocys. It’s also LanzaJet’s second offtake agreement. The company announced itself with a partnership between the renewable fuels manufacturer and the Japanese airline ANA.

Through the deal, British Airways will invest an undisclosed amount in LanzaJet’s first commercial scale facility in Georgia. The fuel will being powering flights by the end of 2022 the companies said.

It’s part of a broader expansion effort that could see LanzaJet establish a commercial facility for the UK airline in its home country in the coming years.

Back in the U.S. the plan is to begin construction on the Georgia facility later this year which will convert ethanol into a jet fuel additive using a chemical process.

Fuel from the plant will reduce the overall greenhouse emissions by 70 percent versus traditional jet fuel. It’s the equivalent of taking almost 27,000 gasoline or diesel-powered cars of the orad each year, according to the company.

The deal is the culmination of years of research and development work between LanzaJet’s parent company, LanzaTech and Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Spun off in June 2020, LanzaJet was financed by an investment group including parent company LanzaTech, Mitsui, and Suncor Energy. British AIrways now joins the two other strategic investors as LanzaJet eyes an ambitious scale up program through 2025. The company plans to launch four large scale plants producing a pipeline of renewable fuels. 

“Low-cost, sustainable fuel options are critical for the future of the aviation sector  and the LanzaJet process offers the most flexible feedstock solution at scale, recycling wastes and  residues into SAF that allows us to keep fossil jet fuel in the ground. British Airways has long been a  champion of waste to fuels pathways especially with the UK Government,” said Jimmy Samartzis, the chief executive of LanzaJet. “With the right support for  waste-based fuels, the UK would be an ideal location for commercial scale LanzaJet plants. We look  forward to continuing the dialogue with BA and the UK Government in making this a reality, and to  continuing our support of bringing the Prime Minister’s Jet Zero vision to life.”  

The LanzaJet fuel is certified for commercial flight up to 50% blend with conventional kerosene. “Considering the aviation market is 90 billion gallons of jet fuel a year, having 50% or 45 billion of production capacity and reaching that max blend level will be a great problem to have,” said LanzaTech chief executive Jennifer Holmgren in an email.

LanzaJet’s manufacturing facility in Georgia is designed to produce zero-waste fuels, according to Holmgren, and British Airways will receive 7,500 tonnes of sustainable aviation fuel from LanzaJet’s biorefinery each year for the next 5 years.

The partnership between British Airways, Hangar 51, International Airlines Group’s accelerator and others.

In addition to its biofuel work, British Airways is also working with companies like ZeroAvia, the hydrogen fuels company that also received backing from Amazon, Shell, and Breakthrough Energy Ventures.

“For  the last 100 years we have connected Britain with the world and the world with Britain, and to  ensure our success for the next 100, we must do this sustainably,” said British Airways chief executive Sean Doyle. 

“Progressing the development and commercial deployment of sustainable aviation fuel is crucial to  decarbonising the aviation industry and this partnership with LanzaJet shows the progress British  Airways is making as we continue on our journey to net zero.”

 

#airline, #airlines, #amazon, #ana, #aviation, #breakthrough-energy-ventures, #british-airways, #department-of-energy, #georgia, #investment, #jennifer-holmgren, #jet-fuel, #lanzajet, #lanzatech, #mitsui, #occupational-safety-and-health, #shell, #tc, #uk-government, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #us-airways, #zeroavia

FAA issues rules for supersonic jet flight testing in the U.S.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued new final rules to help pave the way for the re-introduction of supersonic commercial flight. The U.S. airspace regulator’s rules provide guidance for companies looking to gain approval for flight testing of supersonic aircraft under development, which includes startups like Boom Supersonic, which has just completed its sub-scale supersonic demonstrator aircraft and hopes to begin flight testing it this year.

Boom, which is in the process of finalizing a $50 million funding round and has raised around $150 million across prior fundraising efforts, rolled out its XB-1 supersonic demonstrator jet in October. This test aircraft is smaller than the final design of its Overture passenger supersonic commercial airliner, but will be used to prove out the fundamental technologies in flight that will then be used to construct Overture, which the company is targeting for a 2025 rollout with airline partners.

Other startups, including Hermeus, are also pursuing supersonic flight for commercial use. Meanwhile, SpaceX and others focused on spaceflight like Virgin Galactic are exploring not only supersonic flight, but how point-to-point flight that includes part of the trip at the outer edge of Earth’s atmosphere might reduce flight times dramatically and turn long-haul flights into much shorter, almost regional trips.

The FAA’s rules finalization comes in under the wire as the agency prepares for a transition when current U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao moves aside for incoming Biden pick Pete Buttigieg. You can read the full FAA final rule in the embed belt.

#aerospace, #airline, #aviation, #biden, #boom-supersonic, #boom-technology, #elaine-chao, #federal-aviation-administration, #pete-buttigieg, #sound, #spacex, #tc, #transport, #transportation, #united-states, #virgin-galactic

Supersonic aircraft startup Hermeus raises $16 million Series A

Hermeus, a company seeking to build a Mach 5 aircraft that would be capable of making the trip from New York to London in just 90 minutes has raised a $16 million Series A round, led by Canaan Partners and including contributions from existing investors Khosla Ventures, Bling Capital, and the Rise of the Rest Seed Fund. The new funding will help the startup develop and ground test its first full-scale engine, the core component that will eventually power its debut Mach 5 aircraft.

Earlier this year, Hermeus was able to successfully demonstrate a sub-scale engine prototype, showing that the core design of its technology performed as intended. The company now plans to turn that into a version of the engine that matches its eventual production scale and power, while simultaneously expanding the footprint of its Atlanta-based test facility to also include some light in-house manufacturing capability. It’s also going to be working to continue the design of its debut aircraft, and says it will be sharing more info about that first plane over the course of the next few months.

Hermeus says that its target of Mach 5 flight is actually attainable using relatively mature technology already on market, and it cites a team with ample experience across a range of top-flight aerospace companies including SpaceX, Blue Origin, NASA, Boeing and more as another competitive advantage.

Mach 5 is nonetheless ambitious, however; the Concorde flew at speeds of just over Mach 2, and startup Boom Aerospace is targeting Mach 2.2 for its Overture commercial supersonic aircraft. NASA’s X-59 experimental supersonic jet, built by Lockheed Martin, will cruise at a speed of around Mach 1.42. Mach 5 obviously would be quite a bit faster than even the most ambitious of those projects, but Hermeus CEO AJ Piplica has said previously the company expects it to take around a decade of development before they produce a commercial passenger aircraft.

#aerospace, #atlanta, #aviation, #bling-capital, #blue-origin, #boeing, #canaan-partners, #ceo, #concorde, #funding, #hermeus, #khosla-ventures, #lockheed-martin, #london, #new-york, #recent-funding, #seed-fund, #spacex, #startup, #startups, #tc, #transport, #transportation

Loon sets stratospheric sustained flight record with 312 day balloon trip

Alphabet’s Loon, the company focused on creating new networking capabilities using stratosphere-based infrastructure, has set a new world record for a continuous stratospheric flight. One of Loon’s ultra high-altitude balloons flew for 312 days straight, beating the existing record of 223 days by a considerable margin, and nearly racking up a full year of sustained time aloft.

The balloon in question took off from Puerto Rico in May 2019, and then made its way to Peru where it took part in a service test for three months, it then headed south over the Pacific Ocean, and finally ended up in Baja, Mexico for a landing in March this year. Loon’s CTO Sal Candido said in a blog post that the record-setting flight that it’s the result of the company’s continued work on advancing its technology and pushing both hardware and software forward in new and innovative ways.

Part of that means learning as much as possible from balloons that break records like this one, and Candido points out that Loon has a unique advantage over more traditional high-altitude balloons designed for weather observation because it recovers just about all of them, and can study the best performers in extreme detail. That allows it to replicate and improve on what’s going right when balloons are staying aloft for long periods.

Long-lasting stratospheric balloons are useful because they mean that Loon can provide connectivity to target area for longer, at lower costs, which hopefully means more affordable connectivity for everyone, including those in hard-to-reach areas where ground infrastructure is prohibitively expensive. There’s plenty of additional potential for science, Earth observation and weather tracking/modelling, but Loon’s squarely focused on the connectivity piece of the puzzle at the moment, and replicating this will help tremendously in that regard.

#aerospace, #aviation, #balloon, #cto, #loon, #mexico, #peru, #puerto-rico, #stratosphere, #tc, #x

Here’s your first look at Boom Supersonic’s faster-than-sound XB-1 demonstrator aircraft

Boom Supersonic is closer than ever to its goal of introducing supersonic commercial aviation back tot he global stage – the Colorado-based startup unveiled the final design of its XB-1 demonstrator aircraft today. This is a fully functional prototype airplane, which will help the company test out the flight capabilities and systems that will eventually make its Overture supersonic commercial passenger aircraft a reality.

XB-1 is a scaled down version of what Overture will be, lacking the passenger cabin that will offer business-class style amenities to commercial passengers. It does have a cockpit for the test pilots who will help Boom put its design through its paces beginning in 2021. It measures 71-feet long, and its propulsion is provided by three GE -made J85-15 engines that together provide 12,000 lbs of thrust. There are standard cockpit windows, but because of the extreme angle of the nose required for aerodynamics, there’s also an HD video camera and cockpit display to provide pilots with a virtual view out the front of the plane for maximum visibility.

The frame of the XB-1 is made up of carbon-composite, which is designed for light weight while also offering very high tensile strength and rigidity, as well as an ability to withstand the high temperatures generated by traveling at supersonic speeds (even in the relatively friction-free environs of higher altitudes). Boom also kept pilot comfort in mind when creating the XB-1, optimizing for economics via user testing spanning “hundreds of hours.”

Boom plans to test XB-1 at Mojave Air and Space Port, located in Mojave, California. As mentioned, the goal now is to get that underway next year – but Boom will begin on its ground testing program immediately. Meanwhile, Boom will continue developing Overture simultaneously, working on wind tunnel tests and other elements of aircraft validation in order to help move towards the target of getting that commercial jet in the air for 2025.

Later today, Boom is hosting a virtual rollout event at its headquarters, with a Q&A to be hosted by Boom founder and CEO Blake Scholl. You can check that out live at Boom’s site starting at 11 AM MT (1 PM ET/10 AM PT).

#aerospace, #aircraft, #airplane, #aviation, #blake-scholl, #boom-supersonic, #boom-technology, #california, #ceo, #ge, #mojave, #tc, #transport, #transportation

United Airlines’ website bug exposed traveler ticket data

A bug in United Airlines’ website let anyone access the ticket information for travelers who requested a refund.

The airline’s website lets users check their refund status by entering their ticket number and last name. But the website wasn’t validating the last name, making it possible to access other travelers’ refund information by changing the ticket number.

Oliver Linow, who found the bug, told TechCrunch that he could see traveler surnames, the payment type and currency used to buy the ticket, and the refund amount.

United, like most other airlines, lets passengers access and modify their upcoming flights using only a passenger’s ticket number and last name.

Linow reported the issue to United on July 6. It took the airline a month to fix. But Linow did not hear back again from the airline.

It’s not known for how long the bug was present. United did not respond to our emails with questions about whether the airline informed data protection authorities about the incident.

Companies found in violation of European data protection rules can be fined up to 4% of their annual revenue.

Airlines have withheld billions of dollars worth of refunds during the pandemic amid a sharp decline in passenger numbers. United later received a $5 billion share of a $25 billion U.S. federal aid package aimed at keeping the airline industry afloat.

Earlier this month, United said it would furlough about 20% of its staff — some 16,370 employees.

#aerospace, #airline, #aviation, #cybersecurity, #data-breach, #privacy, #security, #united-airlines

Virgin Galactic debuts design of future Mach 3 high-speed aircraft, signs deal with Rolls-Royce

Virgin Galactic is making strides towards its goal of creating high-speed commercial aircraft that operates a little closer to Earth than its existing passenger spacecraft. The company revealed the initial design of the commercial passenger airplane it’s creating that’s designed to fly at speeds in excess of Mach 3 – faster than the average cruising speed of around Mach 2 that the original Concorde achieved.

This concept design comes alongside a new partnership for Virgin Galactic, by way of a memorandum of understanding that the company signed with Rolls-Royce, one of the world’s leading aircraft engine makers. Rolls-Royce is also responsible for the engine of the Concorde, the only supersonic commercial aircraft ever used for passenger travel.

Virgin Galactic announced in May that it would be partnering with NASA to work towards high-speed, high altitude point-to-point travel for commercial airline passengers. The plan is to eventually create an aircraft that can fly above 60,000 feet (the cruising altitude of the Concorde) and carry between 9 and 19 people per fly, with a cabin essentially set up to provide each of those passengers with either Business or First Class-style seating and service. One other key element of the design is that it be powered by next-gen sustainable fuel for more ecological operation.

In some ways, this project has many of the same goals that NASA has with its X-59 Quiet Supersonic research aircraft. Both aim to inspire the industry at large to do more to pursue the development of high-Mach point-to-point travel, and Virgin says that one of its aims is to “act as a catalyst to adoption in the rest of the aviation community” by coming up with baseline “sustainable technologies and techniques.”

Virgin Galactic’s manufacturing subsidiary, The Spaceship Company, also has a partnership in place with startup Boom Supersonic to help develop their supersonic civil passenger aircraft. Boom is set to unveil and begin testing its XB-1 prototype at an event in October, and also recently announced a new partnership with Rolls-Royce to assist with the design and manufacture of the engines for its eventual Overture commercial plane.

#aerospace, #aircraft, #aviation, #boom-supersonic, #concorde, #rolls-royce, #science, #space, #tc, #transportation, #virgin-galactic, #xb

Boom Supersonic enlists Rolls-Royce to help build the engines for world’s fastest commercial aircraft

Boom Supersonic, the Colorado -based startup working on creating a supersonic passenger jet to continue and dramatically advance the legacy of the original Concorde, has signed on Rolls-Royce to build the propulsion system for its Overture commercial aircraft. Boom is getting very close to actually beginning to fly its XB-1, a subscale demonstrator aircraft that will test and prove out many of the technologies that will be used to bring Overture to life.

This isn’t the first time Boom and Rolls-Royce have worked together: The two companies have had a number of different collaborations on aspects of their development process to date, Boom notes. Rolls-Royce has a history of developing engines for civil aircraft applications dating all the way back to World War II and is the second-largest maker of aircraft engines in the world.

Boom’s relative newcomer status should benefit greatly from the long tradition Rolls-Royce has in creating aircraft propulsion systems — and it doesn’t hurt that Rolls-Royce had a hand in creating the Olympus 593 turbojet that powered the original Concorde.

The Overture aims to be the world’s fastest passenger aircraft, with flights taking half the time they do on conventional commercial jets (New York to London in just three-and-a-half hours, for instance). The company aims to provide essentially dedicated business class service to a frequent business traveler clientele, and to do so sometime in the next five to 10 years.

The XB-1 demonstrator jet has a set reveal date of October 7 this year, which is the first time we’ll get a first-hand look at a fully functional aircraft that Boom really intends to fly.

#aerospace, #aircraft, #aviation, #boom-supersonic, #boom-technology, #colorado, #concorde, #engines, #london, #new-york, #olympus, #rolls-royce, #space, #tc, #transportation

Living the Top Gun dream, on a budget

When seated in a Flying Legend Tucano—a kit-built ¾-scale replica of an Embraer Tucano military trainer—a good day is imminent.

Enlarge / When seated in a Flying Legend Tucano—a kit-built ¾-scale replica of an Embraer Tucano military trainer—a good day is imminent. (credit: Lee H. Goldberg)

“OK, just walk along the wing root until you get to the back seat.”

I wasn’t about to ignore the pilot’s instructions. I edged up the wing to the cockpit and carefully grabbed the roll bar that sat above the aft instrument panel. After swinging one leg at a time into the narrow cockpit, I eased myself down into the co-pilot’s seat of this compact but menacing looking aircraft. My pilot for this fall 2019 flight, Jeff Frank, co-founder of Flying Legend USA, helped me secure the four-point military style safety harness around my waist and shoulders before sliding down into the front seat and preparing to show me what this Flying Legend Tucano—a kit-built ¾-scale replica of an Embraer Tucano military trainer—could do.

For the uninitiated, the Tucano 312 and 314 are Brazilian-built, turboprop-powered, two-place military trainer aircraft used by many of the world’s air forces to teach basic air combat skills to their aspiring fighter pilots. Once retired from military service, some older Tucanos have begun to find their way into the hands of well-heeled civilians. Their raw power, aggressive handling, ability to execute high-G maneuvers, and relatively affordable prices have made them sought-after toys for warbird aficionados wishing to scratch their Walter Mitty-esque itches. In this case, “affordable” is a relative term: older, well-maintained planes retired from military duty can be bought for as “little” as $750,000, with operating costs (fuel and routine maintenance) typically running $400-$600/hour.

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#aviation, #features, #planes, #tech

Microwave thruster makes for clean-burning jet

Microwave thruster makes for clean-burning jet

Enlarge (credit: Dan Ye)

I usually approach papers on the subject of alternative thrusters with a certain degree of cynicism. But we’ve finally been given a study on microwave thrusters that doesn’t rely on impossible physics. Instead, it used a plain old plasma thruster.

Plasma thrusters have generally been thought of as a means of propulsion in space, but now one has been designed to operate under atmospheric conditions. According to the researchers involved, it’s an air plasma thruster that has the potential to produce the same thrust as a commercial jet engine.

Combustible air?

A jet engine is just a form of internal combustion engine: combine fuel and air and compress the living hell out of the mixture. The resulting ignition rapidly heats the gas (most of which is nitrogen and doesn’t burn), forcing it to expand explosively. The rapid expansion can be used to power fans that generate thrust or used directly to provide thrust. But, the key point is that the gas needs to be rapidly heated to very high temperatures so that it can expand. The fuel of a jet engine is just the energy source for heat.

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#aviation, #physics, #plasma, #plasma-physics, #plasma-thruster, #science

Delta Air Lines will park at least half its fleet and close airport lounges

In a letter to employees, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian today announced that the company is parking at least half of its fleet as demand for flights during the current COVID-19 pandemic has plummeted both in the U.S. and internationally. In total, Delta is cutting 70 percent of its capacity and 80 percent of its international operations. It is also closing the majority of its Sky Club airport lounges, making it the first major U.S. airline to take this step.

Bastian notes that he expects revenue for March to decline by $2 billion compared to last year, with the expectation that April’s revenue will be even lower.

“We are having constructive discussions with the White House and Congress, and remain optimistic that our industry will receive support to help address this crisis,” Bastian writes. “That said, we have to continue to take all necessary self-help measures. Cash preservation remains our top financial priority right now. Making swift decisions now to reduce the losses and preserve cash will provide us the resources to rebound from the other side of this crisis and protect Delta’s future.”

Delta also notes that it will accelerate the retirement of some of its older aircraft, specifically some of its 767s and MD-88s and 90s. In addition, Bastian says that the company is reducing maintenance spend for anything that is not necessary “to support the safety of our operation.”

Delta executives are taking pay cuts during this period. About 10,000 employees have already volunteered to take leaves from the company. “I know everyone is concerned about the security of your jobs and pay Given the uncertainty about the duration of this crisis, we are not yet at a point to make any decisions,” says Bastian.

Yesterday, United Airlines also announced drastic schedule reductions for both its domestic and international operations. It’s decreasing international flights by 85 percent and 42 percent of domestic flights and to Canada will be scrapped.

#airline, #airlines, #aviation, #ceo, #congress, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #delta-air-lines, #tc, #united-states, #white-house