Thursday, July 18, 2024

Electra’s hybrid-electric ultra-STOL aircraft makes its first flights

Electra, an American air mobility company, announced two years ago that it was collaborating with the U.S. Air Force on the development of a hybrid-electric, ultra-short takeoff and landing (ultra-STOL) aircraft. The company recently conducted two flights of a demonstrator version of the plane called the EL-2 Goldfinch.

The two-seat technology demonstrator completed an all-electric test flight on November 11 and a hybrid-electric flight on November 19. Both test flights were performed at the Manassas Regional Airport in Virginia, with lead test pilot Cody Allee at the controls. The first hybrid flight lasted 23 minutes, reached an altitude of 3,200 feet (975 meters), and covered a distance of approximately 30 miles (48 km).

The EL-2 Goldfinch technology demonstrator, according to Electra, is the world’s first blown lift aircraft using distributed electric propulsion and a hybrid-electric propulsion system. The plane uses eight electric propellers, four on each side, to blow air over its wings, which significantly increase wing lift and enable ultra-short takeoffs and landings while dramatically reducing noise and emissions below those of conventional aircraft and helicopters.

Hybrid-electric power allows the aircraft to fly long distances without relying on ground-based charging stations. The propellers’ motors are powered by batteries that can be pre-charged for a fully electric flight mode, or they can be recharged during flight by a small turbogenerator for a hybrid mode.

“The aim of Electra is to fill a gap in air travel between 50 and 500 miles, where most trips today are made by automobile. The key to saving time is to operate close in, which means getting in and out of small spaces quietly and safely while still being fast enough to cover long distances,” said Electra founder and CEO John Langford. “Electra will be able to take you from downtown Manhattan not only to Kennedy Airport but to Washington, DC. It will bring air service to thousands of communities where air travel today is not a practical or affordable option. It also opens vast new opportunities for middle-mile cargo logistics.”

Electra is working on a nine-passenger version of the aircraft for commercial and government markets, which can take off and land with ground rolls as short as 150 feet, allowing it to operate from short landing strips of around 300 feet in length. This unit will include a gas turbine based on the French group’s Arrano turboshaft engine driving GeneUs electric motors.

The company projects the aircraft will fly at speeds of 200 mph (322 km/h) for distances of 500 miles (804.6 km). It expects its ability to access places not previously open to fixed-wing aircraft to support multiple new civil and military applications.

Electra’s eSTOL product has received strong market interest, with more than 30 customers pre-ordering over 1,700 aircraft worth more than $6 billion in backlog. Electra will build a prototype of a full-scale pre-production eSTOL aircraft under a strategic funding partnership valued up to $85 million with the U.S. Air Force AFWERX Agility Prime Program. Electra aims to certify and enter commercial service under FAA Part 23 regulations by 2028.