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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Firm Tests 'Crowdfunding' for VTOL Launch

Jim McKenna

XTI's concept for the TriFan 600

XTI Aircraft wants to develop a high-speed, five-passenger, vertical-takeoff-and-landing business transport called the TriFan 600. Using three horizontally mounted, tilt-able lift fans, the single-pilot, fly-by-wire aircraft would be designed to lift off and land at any helipad from which an AW189-class helicopter can operate and cruise above 30,000 ft at 330 to 350 kt. But the unique aspect of the proposal—for now—is not the TriFan 600's flight characteristics but how Denver-based XTI plans to fund it, XTI Vice Chairman Jeff Pino, former president of Sikorsky Aircraft, told Rotor & Wing International. The company is testing whether "crowdfunding" can raise tens of millions of dollars from small, "non-accredited" investors for the project. It is taking advantage of a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission change earlier this year to securities regulations that allows companies to raise up to $50 million under less stringent eligibility, disclosure and reporting requirements. The so-called Regulation A+ ruling allows investment from sources beyond accredited financial firms (though XTI also is pursuing financing from traditional banks, private equity and venture capital firms, high net-worth individuals and aviation OEMs). The key to crowdfunding—similar to "crowdsourcing," with investments rather than donations—is social media. Starting today, the company aims to generate "buzz" about the innovative aircraft proposal through "influencers" on Twitter, blogs and other social media vehicles that will spur potential investors to the crowdfunding site at StartEngine. If in two to four months it finds that interest there is substantial, XTI would seek SEC certification to sell shares through crowdsourcing. XTI founder David Brody has assembled a team of aviation experts in addition to Pino for the TriFan 600 project. The chief engineer is Dennis Olcott, who previously held that post for Adam Aircraft and the PiperJet program. A former president of Cessna Aircraft, Charlie Johnson, is a board member. (Brody also founded AVX Aircraft, a competitor for the U.S. Army's Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator; the companies' efforts are unrelated, Pino said.)

Photo courtesy of XTI Aircraft

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