The eVTOL space as a whole is definitely starting to look distinctly adult in 2023, growing from the mad rush of concepts and ideas a few years ago to a largely cautious, measured, and sensible kind of industry that’s going through the exhaustive process of getting these machines ready for certification and manufacturing.
Always, AMSL Aero is a unique and interesting company in this field – not only for the fact that they are working on this machine in Australia, on the other side of the globe where most of the action is in China, Europe and the United States- United, but because the Vertiia is a very different cell from the rest.
Its box wing formation should make it one of the most compact eVTOLs on the market, carrying up to five people with a footprint that can fit in a few parking spaces. And the Vertiia was designed from the start to run on hydrogen fuel cells – so it boasts a ridiculous range, three to four times what most competitors are claiming for batteries alone.
But Australia is huge, larger than the contiguous 48 states of the United States, with about one-thirteenth the population; if you want to build a useful air ambulance or commuter regional plane, you need to be able to handle some distance. And it could also serve this company well in overseas markets. “If you can solve the long-range problem,” co-founder Andrew Moore tells us in a video call, “short-range is easy. If you’re just building a short-range plane, then the long range is impossible.”
Moore believes the decision to design the Vertiia for a hydrogen powerplant from the ground up is a critical advantage, and that it won’t be easy for competitors to redesign their aircraft to run on hydrogen, even once a powertrain is certified and ready for use. “It’s almost a complete overhaul if you haven’t thought about it from the start,” he says.
Part of this is keeping hydrogen outside the cabin – the Vertiia will store hydrogen in tanks connecting the wingtips. “One of the great things about the box wing,” says Moore, “is that if you do it right, what you put in the wingtips actually helps you aerodynamically. So if you put tanks under your wings, it’s going to give you a significant drag penalty – whereas for us it can actually help reduce drag.”
The current prototype, which completed its first captive flight tests in the first week of February, is entirely battery-powered and lacks much of the sleek bodywork that will be seen on the production aircraft. Its footprint and wingspan are about the same as the eventual production aircraft, but the cabin is much smaller, large enough for two or three people in tandem rather than five.
Work is currently underway on the flight control system and over the next two years AMSL will expand the envelope of the Vertiia. “We’ll do a lot of hover testing,” says Moore, “and then a lot of testing at different wing pitch angles, and work our way through the transition envelope. Along with that, we’ll continue to analyze the results of the previous steps, and updating and tweaking and adjusting.”
AMSL has taken delivery of its first hydrogen fuel cell powertrain, and work is starting on that side as well. “We’re working to make this work,” Moore says, “to improve our understanding of the limitations of incorporating this into one of the prototype aircraft. We’re also working closely with some companies that have a lot of expertise on hydrogen storage and hydrogen tanks as well. We are moving towards partnerships in this area.”
After raising A$23m (US$16m) Series B in September last year, Moore said AMSL is “cash in and ready to go, ready for the next stage of development. , but always looking for opportunities to accelerate We have We have very favorable investors at the moment, we are well positioned What we develop has immediate application – the air ambulance industry here buys and operates fixed wing planes and helicopters to go rescue people from outback farms What we are going to provide is cheaper than what they are using now but also provides a much better service with zero emissions and very flexible landing requirements. We know we’re building the right product, and that puts us in a great position. And when urban air mobility becomes a reality, once the infrastr Support structure and landing sites will be in place, we’ll be in a great place to take advantage of that.”
Another potential benefit of working in Australia, Moore says, is that there really aren’t many other passenger planes going through the certification process with the local aviation authority, CASA. “CASA is very involved,” Moore tells us. “We have an ongoing and close commitment. CASA and the FAA have already jointly certified aircraft in Australia, so there is a clear path to international certification. And as one of the few companies to certify in Australia, we will be number one as companies attempting to certify in the United States at this time will be competing both with other urban air mobility companies and with existing industries that also certify helicopters and airliners. From that point of view, there are some positives. I don’t certify many eVTOLs, but I think we can balance that with their very strong relationship with the FAA.”
“There is incredible relief and joy in seeing the prototype take off,” Moore says. “It’s a great feeling. And very empowering – it’s a slightly different plane than the others, so there have been naysayers, and it’s great to prove them wrong!”
The AMSL team will have a stand at the Avalon Airshow outside Melbourne next week.
Source: AMSL Aero