Virginia-based hybrid-electric aircraft firm Electra has signed a contract with the U.S. Air Force (USAF) to develop its hybrid-electric propulsion systems for electric ultra-short takeoff and landing (eSTOL) aircraft, the company announced in a press statement.
The Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract awarded by the USAF is directly aimed at shortening the time to market for advanced commercial aviation technologies.
"Electra is thrilled to be working in tandem with the U.S. Air Force and its innovative Agility Prime team to accelerate the tech transition of eSTOL into the commercial marketplace," said Ben Marchionna, Electra's Director of Technology & Innovation.
"These next-gen, low-carbon systems will solve several critical defense-related capability gaps while leveraging affordable commercial marketplace solutions," he continued.
Electra's unique selling point is an aircraft that leverages a distributed hybrid-electric propulsion and blown lift to take off in less than 150 feet (45 meters).
Today we announced our partnership with the @usairforce to accelerate the tech transition of eSTOL into the commercial marketplace!— Electra.aero (@ElectraAero) June 22, 2021
Read more about our exciting collaboration with the innovative @AgilityPrime team: https://t.co/PdJ7BxSSSw#estol #electricaviation
The eSTOL aircraft is envisioned to carry out "middle mile" cargo logistics, and air ambulance services, among other services.
Triple the payload capacity of eVTOL aircraft at less than half the operating cost
The eSTOL aircraft category falls somewhere between a regular cargo aircraft and a drone. Though Electra's aircraft does need a runway, unlike its close relative, the electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, Electra claims that it offers almost triple the payload capacity, longer range, and operates at less than half the operating cost.
Electra's "blown lift" technology sees the aircraft's electric motor-driven propellers blow air over its wings, allowing takeoffs at speeds below 30 mph (48 km/h) and cruising speeds of up to 200 mph (320 km/h).
In a separate statement, Electra said "the aircraft is designed to carry up to seven passengers and a pilot as far as 500 miles while operating out of areas shorter than a soccer field, including rooftops and parking lots."
Electra's aircraft will use a turbogenerator to power eight electric motors and charge a custom battery system during flight. The propulsion system produces 150 kW (200 HP) of electrical power and features a small gas turbine as well as a gearbox, generator, rectifier, control system, and software.
The company said it plans to perform ground tests this year before conducting flight tests in 2022. Electra hopes to release its first commercial aircraft, which should carry seven passengers and a pilot for up to 500 miles, by 2026.