The U.S. Air Force (USAF) wants to introduce innovative air mobility vehicles. It has signed a contract with a Virginia-based hybrid-electric aircraft firm Electra to develop the hybrid-electric propulsion systems for electric ultra-short takeoff and landing (eSTOL) aircraft as a part of its innovative Agility Prime.
By launching Agility Prime, USAF intends to bring together industry partners, government representatives, and investors to speed up the process of making these types of vehicles commercially viable. And the recent contract with Electra is an important step in that direction.
“Electra is thrilled to be working in tandem with the U.S. Air Force and its innovative Agility Prime team to accelerate the tech transition of eSTOL into the commercial marketplace. These next-gen, low-carbon systems will solve several critical defense-related capability gaps while leveraging affordable commercial marketplace solutions,” says Ben Marchionna, Electra’s Director of Technology & Innovation.
Electra’s unique eSTOL aircraft leverages a distributed hybrid-electric propulsion and blown lift to take off in less than 150 feet (45 meters). The aircraft can deliver nearly triple the payload capacity, an order of magnitude longer ranges, and less than half the operating costs of eVTOL alternatives.
Electra’s first propulsion system is comprised of a small gas turbine and several custom components, including a gearbox, generator, rectifier, control system, and software, and it can generate 150 kW (200 HP) of electrical power.
Ground testing of Electra eSTOL aircraft will begin this year, followed by flight testing on the company’s technology demonstrator aircraft in 2022. The demonstrator carries two people and can take off and land in distances as short as 100 feet. It will use this hybrid-electric turbogenerator to power eight electric motors and charge a custom battery system during flight. This means there’s no need to return to the ground for recharging, and no special infrastructure has to be built.
Electra’s first commercial product is designed to carry up to seven passengers and a pilot as far as 500 miles (804 km). The company plans for its commercial aircraft product with FAA certification planned in 2026.