The Skyport: Most Recent Issue

Below is the most recent issue of The Skyport, sent on August 27. If you like the newsletter and want to sign up, head back to the signup form!


Musk on Batteries, and Finding the Right TermsWill Elon Musk join the electric aviation revolution?

Musk on batteries: Earlier this week, the Tesla and SpaceX founder tweeted he expects 400 watt-hour per kilogram batteries with high cycle life to be available in volume production within 3-4 years, which he believes will enable electric aviation.

An academic study co-authored by four Tesla employees in June cited progress in higher-density, anode-free lithium-metal cells, improving from a 90-cycle life to 200 cycles. Still not yet viable for most applications.

Musk has said in the past his greatest limitation is human resources — i.e., talented engineers — so despite Tesla’s skyrocketing stock price and financial reserves, it still seems unlikely he will jump into electric aviation, fixed-wing or VTOL, any time soon.

Besides, it’s a way smaller market.

Talking about what we’re talking about: I discussed naming conventions for eVTOLs on Twitter yesterday, looking for better terminology than UAM, AAM, eVTOL, air taxis, or heaven forbid, flying cars. How’s “electric vertical flight?”

Ping me if you have any ideas. Once the industry starts to go more mainstream, none of these acronyms are going to stick.


Brian Garrett-Glaser
Skyport Editor

Vertical Aerospace Reveals VA-1X, Targets 2024

Image: Vertical Aerospace

Vertical Aerospace, Britain’s leading entrant in the race to commercialize electric vertical flight, unveiled the VA-1X, a vectored-thrust air taxi that represents a significant departure from the company’s previous multicopter design.

It’s a much more complex design with greater efficiency in forward flight, with a 49-foot wingspan and eight propulsors — four that appear to be fixed, to assist with takeoff and landing, and four that tilt forward to transition the aircraft into cruise flight.

Vertical is aggressively targeting commercial operations with the VA-1X by 2024.

Some details on the aircraft and Vertical’s next steps:

  • Spec sheet: VA-1X is intended to move a pilot, four passengers and their luggage (992 lbs max payload) up to 100 miles at a max cruise speed of 150 mph, producing 30x less noise than a helicopter.
  • Vertical hasn’t yet partnered with an operator, mobility app or other service, but intends to. Eric Allison, head of Uber Elevate, tweeted approvingly of the new design. Will Vertical join as the ninth vehicle partner?

Why the move away from Seraph: “Multicopters are great, but they are not efficient for longer flights which is where we see the benefit of being in this market,” a company representative told me.

EHang hinted at a similar shift two days ago during its Q2 earnings call, with founder and CEO Huazhi Hu mentioning a new product with a “flight range of over 100 kilometers.”

If fully electric, that range — significantly more than the company’s two-seat 216, which only reaches 21 miles — is likely to be achieved by a more efficient, wing-borne lift-plus-cruise or vectored-thrust concept.

Evolve or die: Is there a market in transportation for multicopter eVTOLs, or are they a developmental stepping-stone to the more complex but faster and efficient design space of lift-plus-cruise and vectored thrust?

Read more on Vertical Aerospace’s new air taxi concept. (More pictures, too.)

U.S. Air Force Leaders Witness Manned Demonstration of LIFT Aircraft’s HEXA

Image: Kenneth Swartz /

Leadership from the U.S. Air Force observed a manned demonstration of an electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft last week near Austin, Texas.

Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett and Chief of Staff Charles Q. Brown, Jr. were on hand to watch LIFT Aircraft’s HEXA, a single-seat eVTOL aircraft powered by 18 overhead electric motors and propellers, fly for four minutes in a demonstration that included hovers, turns and forward flight 40 feet above ground level.

  • The demonstration was part of a leadership visit to AFWERX, the Air Force’s innovation center and home to its Agility Prime initiative. LIFT Aircraft is one of fifteen companies the service has contracted with under Agility Prime, encompassing three categories: 1-2 seats, 3-8 seats, and unmanned cargo aircraft with greater than 1,320 lbs gross takeoff weight.
  • According to AFWERX director Col. Nathan Diller, the company has received $2.6 million in Air Force funding to date –– much of it tied to development milestones.
  • LIFT intends to certify the HEXA as an ultralight under FAA Part 103 and allow paying members of the public, after less than an hour of training, to fly it recreationally in scenic locations. The company is going “on tour” to cities around the U.S. for 12-18 months, starting early next year (COVID depending). 15,000 people have already signed up to fly it.

Air Force use case: To be determined. Finding ways to use the HEXA and other eVTOL aircraft is part of the Agility Prime effort, along with understanding the technology and buoying the market (particularly in the U.S.).

Col. Diller told me he sees the HEXA potentially used for: training, first responders, as a flying testbed, and local unmanned logistics.

Matt Chasen, CEO and founder of LIFT, shared his view on how the commercial eVTOL market will develop: “We believe the market for experiential entertainment flying of electric multi rotors will be huge … We believe the market for eVTOL will develop first with ultralights under Part 103, then with public use including military, emergency medical, law enforcement and coast guard rescue, etc. Only after these aircraft get certified and are proven at the levels of safety required for passenger transportation — less than ten to the minus ninth chance of failure — will they be used for transportation.”

Read more on LIFT Aircraft’s progress and recent demo to U.S. Air Force leadership.

EHang, ICAO’s ‘Ambular’ Project & eVTOLs for Emergency Use

Image: Ambular / ICAO

EHang recently joined Ambular, a volunteer project run by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to explore applications of electric vertical flight for emergency medical response operations.

What is Ambular: Launched in 2018, Ambular seeks to develop a prototype aircraft that will be open-sourced, rather than built and sold as a commercial product, as well as to demonstrate that eVTOL aircraft can be affordably and responsibly used for emergency medical response purposes.

  • EHang’s role: As the project’s first and only current hardware partner, EHang will provide rotors and motors, and potentially other necessary hardware, to aid in the design of an aircraft intended to be provided open-source to whomever wants to use it.
  • Ambular is 4-5 years off from having a ¼-scale prototype ready, but there is one distinction between this project and other EMS-minded eVTOL developers, such as Jump Aero and one line of effort by Volocopter…
  • Patient transport: Ambular intends its aircraft to be capable of transporting a patient from the scene of an accident back to the hospital. Jump Aero and Volocopter both view more use for the technology in simply transporting a paramedic quickly to the scene, leaving patient transport to helicopters if needed.

In summary: eVTOLs may offer value for EMS, including improved response times, but how and where the technology can contribute isn’t yet entirely clear. In about eight weeks, Volocopter will release the results of an 18-month study with ADAC Air Rescue Foundation exploring medical use cases — that may shine a light here.

Also, response times are generally worse in rural areas than in cities and densely-populated suburbs.

Read more on eVTOLs for emergency use and EHang’s many recent announcements.

Long Road Ahead for FAA, Airports on Drone Security

Securing airports from drones was a hot topic at the recent FAA UAS Symposium, co-hosted with AUVSI, but it will be a number of years before the agency releases guidance on proper use of counter-drone systems.

The FAA recently released a request-for-information on drone detection and mitigation system to be tested for use within an airport’s air operations area, a far more complicated problem than tracking and taking down drones in the middle of nowhere.

  • Ten detection and/or mitigation systems will be chosen for initial testing at the Atlantic City International Airport in New Jersey. If a system performs well, it’ll head to one of four other airports chosen for testing. The entire process is expected to take at least 18 months.
  • After the testing: FAA will — eventually — release an advisory circular to assist airports in purchasing and using safe and effective counter-drone systems. This will also allow airports to use Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds for that purchase, if deemed necessary, which cannot currently be done because there is no FAA standard.
  • In the meantime, the FAA and other government officials seem concerned with improper and potentially illegal use of counter-drone systems, either shutting down runways due to false positives, using mitigation systems without authority or breaking federal laws.

Meanwhile, the agency continues to work on remote ID rulemaking, scheduled to be released in late December. Meetings of the Remote ID Cohort, a group of companies chosen to help the FAA build the core technology behind the policy’s implementation, have been indefinitely paused, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The FAA will also expand LAANC, the tool by which drone operators can gain real-time access to restricted airspace, from its current 400 participating air traffic control facilities to 530. Sources tell me a few military bases will also be added to the roster.

Read more on the long road ahead for the FAA and airports on drone security.

Skyport Reads

Some more eVTOL stories from the past two weeks:

Thanks for reading The Skyport! Get in touch if you like the newsletter, take issue with the coverage, or have something to share. Just hit ‘reply’ and I’ll get your note.

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– Brian Garrett-Glaser (@bgarrettglaser on Twitter)

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