NASA has awarded Electra.aero a contract to support the development of its “blown lift” technology, which it intends to use for its planned eSTOL aircraft. Under NASA’s Small Business Technology Transfer program, Electra is working with a team led by Alejandra Uranga, Gabilian assistant professor at the University of Southern California’s Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering.
According to the Virginia-based company, it will be ready to start flight testing a full-scale hybrid-electric technology demonstrator in 2022 as it progresses towards anticipated type certification in 2026. The aircraft, which will use a 150-kW turbogenerator to power eight electric motors and charge a set of batteries, is intended to carry up to seven passengers and a pilot on flights of up to 500 miles.
Electra plans that the eSTOL model will be able to land and take off in just 150 feet of runway, which director of technology and innovation Ben Marchionna said, “really pushes today’s aerodynamic technology to its limits.” The start-up envisages the aircraft being used for sub-regional passenger services, as well as so-called middle-mile cargo movements and emergency medical support operations.
“Even the best computational flow dynamics-based blown lift and distributed electric propulsion models today lack validation against full-scale vehicles for these unique configurations,” said professor Uranga. “Current computational methods can predict some limited blown lift flow fields in three dimensions, but the large eSTOL design space compared to conventional aircraft means that fast, trusted, low-order methods are needed to rapidly evaluate design choices. This contract will help us develop those methods.”