Watch: High-tech eSTOL aircraft hardly needs any runway

While alien-looking eVTOL aircraft are stealing the headlines, Electra’s slightly more conventional approach is beating the likes of Joby, Archer, Lilium and Vertical Aerospace on pre-sales. Indeed, we pointed out in January that this company’s pre-order book was already more than eight times the annual revenue of Cessna. So the industry certainly seems to believe in this project.

The nine-seat Electra aircraft itself looks reasonably normal at first glance, but there are enough departures from a standard airframe to make some remarkable promises.

The eight small-diameter, five-bladed propellers along its wing run on quiet electric motors, fed by a big enough lithium battery pack to allow fully-electric takeoff and landing, and quiet flight over populated areas that you’ll struggle to hear over traffic; Electra promises just 75 decibels at a distance of 300 ft (91 m), making it pretty neighbor-friendly as aircraft go.

A range-extending generator stops it from running totally clean on longer flights – but it’ll actually allow longer flights, which fully electric aircraft will simply be unable to match until the next leap in battery technology. Electra promises cruise speeds around 200 mph (322 km/h) and a range around 500 miles (805 km) on top of a 45-minute reserve.

The efficient hybrid system should cut fuel burn by as much as 40% on a 100-mile (161-km) flight – although we’d imagine that figure will drop substantially on longer flights where the generator spends more time running.

Eight small props force airflow over the wings, generating outsized lift at slow speeds
Eight small props force airflow over the wings, generating outsized lift at slow speeds

Electra Aero

But the most fun part is the way those small props concentrate airflow over the wings, creating a blown-lift scenario that allows operators to take off and land on soccer-pitch-sized 300 x 100-ft (91 x 30-m) airstrips. That’s pretty wild for a nine-seater.

And you certainly won’t need all of that 300 feet. Electra has now flown its first STOL operation at the Manassas Regional Airport in Virginia, using its EL-2 Goldfinch demonstrator aircraft – and it needed just over half that length. Check it out:

Electra First eSTOL Flight May 2024

“During the campaign,” reads a press release, “the aircraft took off in less than 170 ft (52 m) and landed in under 114 ft (35 m) ground roll, the aircraft reached an altitude of 6,500 feet (1,980 m), and it flew as slowly as 25 kts (29 mph/46 km/h) on takeoff and landing.”

“Today’s milestone is an incredible achievement as we’ve proven that our eSTOL aircraft has the capability to do what we said it could do – operate from spaces shorter than 300 feet,” said JP Stewart, Electra Vice President and General Manager. “The aircraft handling at low-speeds has been exceptional and is matching our analysis well, building confidence in the predicted capability of the nine-passenger product design. We’ll continue to develop our technologies, including the ‘thrust-by-wire’ flight control system to allow us to fly even slower on approach and further improve the STOL takeoff and landing performance in the ongoing test campaign.”

The company is seeking commercial certification from the FAA under Part 23 regulations, and expects a production aircraft to enter commercial service in 2028. Very neat!

Source: Electra

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