The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

California-based startup Airflow announced its plans to develop a hybrid-electric powered, eSTOL aircraft in June 2020. It says the fixed-wing will only need a 300-foot runway that could be built alongside a warehouse to support so-called middle-mile services of between 50 and 300 miles.

The company believes it can get the unnamed aircraft certified under FAA Part 23 rules and into production by the end of 2025. When the program was launched, it had already flown a sub-scale model of an initial concept design. It has yet to finalize the configuration for the aircraft and expects to have full-scale prototype ready to fly by around mid-2023.

Airflow says that it intends to market cargo carrying services directly to logistics companies and will sub-contract flight operations to Part 135 operators. It plans to announce partnerships with logistics and real estate firms to develop landing sites.

In July 2020, the company said that it had begun flight testing a non-conforming sub-scale model. Initial work is focused on developing key control algorithms to achieve safe and repeatable short-field landings and takeoffs. By mid-November, the engineering team was evaluating a second version of its autopilot with a series of trial approaches and landings. At that point, it had completed around 220 flights

Co-founder and CEO Marc Ausman told FutureFlight that time has been spent on market validation, through talks with large logistics companies about requirements such as the size of the cargo bay, takeoff and landing performance, and the need for all-weather capability. He says that operating costs for the fixed-wing aircraft will be around one-third those of comparable eVTOL aircraft.

On December 1, 2020, Airflow announced the selection of VerdeGo Aero to provide its hybrid powertrain system to drive the Airflow aircraft. The Jet-A/battery pack hybrid propulsion system promises a 35% reduction in emissions over conventional turbine powertrains, and, according to Airflow, will allow the aircraft to deliver the 300 mile range required by its clients.

In late January 2020, Airflow announced plans to start using a reconfigured Cessna 210 light aircraft as a flying testbed for its planned short runway operations. It will replace the single piston engine with the hybrid powertrain to prepare the way for development of the full-scale prototype.

Timeline

Projected

type certification granted

Type certification and start of production
Projected

test flight

First flight of full-scale prototype

partnership

VerdeGo Aero will provide its new hybrid powertrain system for the Airflow STOL aircraft.

test flight

Began flight testing sub-scale model

Outlook

Our objective assessment of this program’s probable success.

FutureFlight assesses the probability of success for a new aircraft program by considering the following criteria:

  • Total investment funds available in proportion to the anticipated cost of getting an aircraft certified and in service
  • A company’s in-house capability (in terms of numbers of engineers, technical staff, and customer support teams)
  • The past experience of the company and its senior leadership in developing aircraft
  • The caliber and past experience of key program partners
  • Whether key aircraft systems have been selected and are available for use
  • Whether the preliminary design review has been completed
  • Whether the design for the full-scale prototype has been completed
  • Whether the type certification process has been formally initiated with an appropriate regulator
  • Whether the company has achieved a first flight with a full-scale prototype
  • The number of hours logged in a flight test program
  • Whether type certification has been achieved
  • The number of orders and commitment received for the aircraft
  • Whether the company has adequate facilities to begin series production of the aircraft
Our Methodology

Airflow was founded by five former members of the team working on Airbus's Vahana eVTOL technology demonstrator. This lends the company significant engineering credibility. Also, they deserve credit for not jumping on the eVTOL bandwagon, but instead looking to advance the potential for a short takeoff and landing aircraft to get to market sooner than some of the more complex eVTOL.

The founders say they will need no more than $200 million to get the aircraft into production, by comparison with the $700 million that they estimate it will take to get an eVTOL to market. At launch, they would not reveal how much capital they have raised but did indicate they intend to launch further fund raising rounds.

The selection of VerdeGo Aero as a partner for propulsion systems is a key stepping stone in the development process because power is one of the highest technology risk elements for a new aircraft.

The Airflow team is built on a foundation of several electric aviation veterans from the Airbus Vahana eVTOL technology demonstrator project. The leadership members also have extensive professional experience with companies such as Eclipse Aviation, Northrop Grumman, Uber Elevate, Airware and Scaled Composites.

Airflow Models

Airflow Specifications

local stol Fixed Wing

Performance

  • Passenger Capacity
    2
  • Range
    250 mi
  • Cruise Speed
    115 mph
  • Powerplant Type
    propeller
  • Power Source
    hybrid_fe
  • Endurance
    n/a
  • Max Altitude
    n/a
  • Takeoff Distance
    150 ft
  • Landing Distance
    300 ft
  • Empty Weight
    n/a
  • MGTOW
    n/a
  • Payload Weight
    500 lb

Dimensions

  • Length
    n/a
  • Width
    n/a
  • Height
    n/a
  • Wingspan
    n/a

As of June 2020 when it launched the program, Airflow had yet to name or confirm the final configuration for its planned eSTOL fixed-wing aircraft. The startup has opted for a hybrid-electric propulsion system and piloted operations in a bid to get to market more quickly than autonomous eSTOL aircraft. 

The eSTOL would be able to take off in no more than 150 feet, but Airflow is planning on developing a network of 300-foot runways to support freight operations.