Horizon Aircraft is creating an eVTOL that operates 98 percent of its missions just like a traditional fixed-wing aircraft. (Horizon Aircraft)
Horizon Aircraft thinks they’ve found the solution for electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOLs): make them fly like traditional aircraft. Where many companies are working on creating completely new designs for the air taxi market, Horizon Aircraft is creating an aircraft that flies 98 percent of its missions just like a normal aircraft, Brandon Robinson, CEO of Horizon Aircraft told Aviation Today.
“It fundamentally flies like a normal aircraft and then it has a VTOL [vertical take-off and landing] mode that engages for landing, and for taking off vertically if you should so choose to do that,” Robinson said.
The Cavorite X5 is a hybrid-electric VTOL with a patented fan-in-wing design. It can carry up to five passengers and has a 500 km range. It has a pusher prop in the back which is uses for thrust 90 percent of the time when flying, Robinson said. When taking off or landing, it can use the 16 fans hidden inside its wings.
“So the wings open up and reveal an array of lift fans that are buried in both wings,” Robinson said. “They're very simple, very light fans, but they're high power...Those fans spin up and provide the vertical thrust to get the aircraft airborne. Now as soon as we transition forward, the main prop at the back engages and pushes the aircraft forward, the landing gear comes up, and then wings slowly close. That process is completed at a prescribed speed, and then you're flying like a normal airplane.”
The Cavorite X5 has a pusher prop in the back which is uses for thurst 90 percent of the time when flying, Robinson said. When taking off or landing, it can use the 16 fans hidden inside its wings. (Horizon Aircraft)
Robinson said the reasoning behind choosing to go with a hybrid option instead of full electric was based on the weight of the batteries required for full electric operations, the range restrictions it requires, and the turn around times for charging the needed batteries. To maximize the amount of cargo or passengers the aircraft can carry it would not make sense to choose a fuel source that is so much less dense than fuel.
“Anything over 100 kilometers range, you know the hybrid system really started starts to be the only thing that makes sense because gas still has 40 times the amount of energy density as modern pack batteries,” Robinson said. “So, if you agree that aerospace machines should be light and should have power dense energy sources and energy dense energy sources have been it's pretty much a no brainer.”
Designing the VTOL similarly to traditional aircraft has been advantageous for certification. Certification of the aircraft’s unique wings is secondary to the certification of the whole aircraft, Robinson said.
“When we talk to certification folks about our particular design, they kind of breathe a sigh of relief, they say okay, yours we understand,” Robinson said. “99 percent of the time, it is a normal aircraft and we're used to certifying normal aircraft, that is very helpful for us...The vertical takeoff and landing portion of the machine is really just an additional layer of safety that also does open up the ability to take off and land vertically.”
Like a traditional aircraft, the Cavorite X5 will have a pilot, at least for now. However, Robinson said they are keeping the option open by provisioning the nose of the aircraft for sensors needed to enable this kind of flight.
“The fully autonomous carriage of passengers is not going to happen anytime soon,” Robinson said. “So we're taking a very realistic approach, with our configuration you have a lot of room in the nose so you can put a lot of sensors upfront. So it would be silly not to provision it for all those sensors, and all the sensors that have the ability to make it fully autonomous, when you have a pilot on board, they just add to the safety.”
Like a traditional aircraft, the Cavorite X5 will have a pilot, at least for now. However, Robinson said they are keeping the option open by provisioning the nose of the aircraft for sensors needed to enable this kind of flight. (Horizon Aircraft)
The Cavorite X5 will have autonomous elements like a fly-by-wire system, sense and avoid, and other safety systems onboard, Robinson said. An example of this is when the aircraft hits a stall speed, the fans in its wings will activate and keep the aircraft level.
“If you slow below a certain speed, it's called the stall speed in an aircraft, normally it will stall and maybe you'll enter into a spin if there's some adverse conditions there,” Robinson said. “Our aircraft will warn you, and then it will enter vertical mode where it uses its onboard electric fans. The wings open up and use those fans to keep the aircraft level, and perhaps descending but definitely not spinning and crashing.”
Horizon Aircraft has chosen not to vertically integrate and instead to lean on the expertise of other companies who have expertise in their specific areas.
“It makes zero sense to try to vertically integrate and create everything yourself and become a competence expert and become a sensors and actuators and fly by wire expert, but I can say companies such as Honeywell are doing a beautiful job right now,” Robinson said.
Robinson said Horizon Aircraft is partnering with multiple companies but could not disclose which ones right now. Horizon Aircraft also recently merged with Astro Aerospace in a deal which will be completed in April.
“We have access to their engineering capabilities because they were one of the first companies to jump into this market, their access to capital and so now we're well funded and we'll continue to be well funded so we can make some serious progress, and together it's a pretty powerhouse team,” Robinson said.
They are flying subscale prototypes of the Cavorite X5 and just completed their 200th flight, Robinson said. They are currently testing control systems and aerodynamics.