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Airflow Partners with Pipistrel for Proof-of-Concept Electric-Propulsion Aircraft

By Jessica Reed | December 7, 2021
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Aircraft designer and manufacturer Pipistrel partners with Airflow, maker of eSTOL aircraft, to supply motors, motor controllers, and batteries necessary for its Distributed Electric Propulsion in its proof-of-concept demonstrator aircraft.

Airflow, electric short takeoff and landing (eSTOL) aircraft company, recently announced a partnership with Pipistrel, aircraft designer and manufacturer of the world’s first and currently the only type-certified electric airplane. In this partnership, Pipistrel will supply the motors, motor controllers, and batteries for Airflow’s proof-of-concept aircraft with Distributed Electric Propulsion.

Marc Ausman, CEO and co-founder of Airflow, explained in an interview with Avionics International that this proof-of-concept project will involve modifying an existing fixed-wing aircraft design with the latest technology. “The advantage is that we can do it very quickly and very inexpensively. That will help inform the production and design of the aircraft.”

Ausman also shared that Airflow is “focused on building an aircraft that has value to commercial operators today as opposed to focusing on building a specific technology that has very limited commercial use. Customer requirements for the regional air mobility market are very important.”

The partnership with Pipistrel will take advantage of the supplier’s integrated system of motors and batteries. For the technology demonstrator aircraft, Pipistrel’s technology was a perfect fit not only because of their products available but also because of the maturity of their technology. 

“We were looking for a supplier that had the complete end-to-end system already integrated together. [Pipistrel’s products] have already been tested to work together; they’ve been engineered to work together. Pipistrel is essentially the systems integrator. That’s work we don’t have to do for the proof-of-concept aircraft,” remarked Ausman.

Pipistrel will supply motors, motor controllers, and batteries for Airflow’s proof-of-concept aircraft. AirFlow)

The development of an aircraft for the regional air mobility market, to fly both people and cargo, is a primary focus for Airflow. The company hopes to accomplish these three goals:

  • Reduce the price of a regional flight ticket by 70% 
  • Produce aircraft that operate quietly to avoid disturbing local communities
  • Ensure that the process is done sustainably

“Every year in the U.S. alone, according to the DoT, there are over 2 billion trips that are driven every year in this 50-500 mile segment, and our goal is to move those people from driving to the air to reduce congestion, to move them to a sustainable form of transportation,” Ausman said. "There are close to 5,000 small, underutilized airports in the U.S. Using the existing infrastructure in the U.S. and around the world is a huge opportunity for sustainably integrating new aircraft."

While electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles will serve urban areas for low-altitude flights less than 50 miles, Ausman wants Airflow to bring electric propulsion to the regional air mobility market for 50-to-500-mile flights with their next-generation eSTOL aircraft. “We can offer an aircraft that is technically simpler, has less regulatory risk, and is less costly to operate than an eVTOL aircraft. eSTOL represents a new generation of aircraft and manufacturers bringing in new thinking to the market, and new technology to the market," he said.

Separately from the one-off demonstrator aircraft project, Airflow is developing the production aircraft with an entirely different set of considerations. Ausman explained, “The process has to meet very stringent requirements for our customers that will use them commercially. That aircraft is planned for FAA certification in 2025.” Initial design work is in progress, and the next step is building multiple iterations of prototypes.

The company has already announced $600M in orders from customers around the world, indicating that aircraft operators are interested in the solutions Airflow has to offer the commercial market. Airflow also recently partnered with another company, Honeywell International, to continue pushing the development of eSTOL aircraft. The partnership will explore integration of Honeywell’s IntuVue RDR-84K radar system onto Airflow’s aircraft. According to Ausman, the systems are roughly the size of a book and can be placed in multiple spots on the aircraft to provide a 360-degree view of traffic around the vehicle and ensure a higher degree of safety. This integration could serve as a basis for a detect-and-avoid system for future autonomous aircraft.

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