Jump Aero is partnering with Caltech university to develop a so-called “electronic parachute” to help pilots land their aircraft safely in the event of flight controls being damaged. The work will be conducted under a Small Business Technology Transfer research contract awarded this week by the U.S. Air Force’s Agility Prime program to accelerate the development of advanced air mobility vehicles that could have a dual military-civil use.
The “electronic parachute” consists of an adaptive flight controller pre-tuned in simulation mode for various system failure scenarios with a machine-learned neural network that would enable the pilot to initiate a rapid recalibration in the event of midair damage. The simulation will be based on Jump Aero’s JA1 eVTOL aircraft, which it is developing to help emergency first responders get to the scene of accidents.
In this context, the flight controller is essentially a set of control laws that are implemented in software to run on the aircraft’s flight control computer. “When there is substantial damage to the aircraft and the pilot determines that the aircraft fly-by-wire system is not responding properly due to the damage, they would have the option of deploying this electronic parachute, which is in effect a much more advanced set of control laws that are able to change to account for failures,” explained founder and president Carl Dietrich.
The work will be conducted using the autonomous systems controls laboratory at Caltech in conjunction with a team led by professor Soon-Jo Chung. In simulation trials, the partners will seek to “pre-train” the software to respond to large numbers of potential failures and find new optimal control laws to improve the probability of a safe, controlled landing.
“While the performance [of the aircraft] may still be degraded, the computer will do its best to make the aircraft behave like the baseline flight control laws are still running, albeit with new performance restrictions that are appropriate to the failure scenario,” Dietrich explained.
Jump Aero was formed in January 2020 by Carl Dietrich, who was previously a founder of flying-car pioneer Terrafugia, which he sold to China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group. The company says that first response times could be almost cut in half using eVTOL aircraft like its JA1 instead of ambulances. With no published timeline for type certification and service entry, the Jump team is still finalizing the design of the JA1.
In its discussions with emergency medical services organizations, Jump Aero has made a case for paramedics who are not currently pilots to be sent to earn a private license and then complete type training with the manufacturer. The eVTOL would be flown under FAA Part 91 rules covering non-commercial operations and would be limited to fair-weather VFR conditions at first.