Commercial, Unmanned

Scaled Composites to Help Build Prototype of Skyworks’ VertiJet VTOL

A rendering of the VertiJet. (Skyworks)

A rendering of the VertiJet. (Skyworks)

Gyronautics company Skyworks is teaming up with Northrop Grumman subsidiary Scaled Composites to build a prototype of its VertiJet vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft, the companies announced Monday.

The VertiJet will have an estimated top speed of 400 mph with a range of 1,000 nm, nearly enough for a round trip from Washington to Chicago. That range hints at longer missions than the intra-metropolitan area ones typically favored by the urban air mobility market. Few traditional helicopters can even approach 1,000 nm, though those specifications are similar to the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey.

The exact size of the VertiJet demonstrator is still undecided. The companies are considering anywhere from 4 to 12 passengers, Skyworks said. The company has pitched its technology for both civil and defense use, so it is unclear where it sees its primary market, though it wants to prove out the underlying concept  — a VTOL gyroplane that the company promises can blend the best of both the helicopter and fixed-wing worlds.

“VertiJet is a disruptive aircraft configuration,” said Don Woodbury, Skyworks Global’s chief technology advisor. “An aircraft that can take off and land vertically, hover when needed, and cruise with the speed, range, and efficiency of a fixed-wing aircraft would be quite compelling. But even more exciting from my perspective is the potential to provide this unique performance without the complexity or cost of today’s military and civil rotorcraft.”

As with the UAM industry, the concept of the VertiJet is decreased complexity enabling safer, more efficient flight with lower operating and maintenance costs. Companies like Uber have pointed to decreased complexity, in particular, as an important part of the business case for air taxis. In the Vertijet’s case, battery power is replaced by gyronautics as a prime enabling technology.

Scaled Composites has an extensive history of designing, building and testing new vehicles, such as the Stratolaunch — two Boeings that were bolted together to make the worlds largest plane which was last month put up for sale for a mere $400 million — and Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipOne and White Knight launcher.

“Scaled excels at the rapid prototyping of proof-of-concept vehicles,” said company President Cory Bird. “The VertiJet demonstrator will build on our legacy of innovation and proving what is possible in aerospace. We look forward to collaborating with Skyworks to realize the potential of this unique aircraft configuration.”

The VertiJet’s construction is expected to take about 18 months, according to information obtained from SkyWorks Director Jack Carter.


Update, 7/10: The timeline for the prototype’s construction has been added based on additional information obtained by AVI.

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