Zeva Aero, the company behind the flying saucer-shaped Zero eVTOL that made its inaugural test flight earlier this year, is working on a new prototype aircraft. Called Z2, the new design is expected to be faster, more efficient, and more compact than Zeva’s Zero technology demonstrator, and the U.S. start-up says it is working to add autonomous flight capabilities.
Just like the Zero, Zeva’s Z2 prototype is a zero-emissions, single-occupant eVTOL designed for a variety of applications, including personal transportation, emergency response, search and rescue, law enforcement, and cargo deliveries. Zeva CEO Stephen Tibbitts told FutureFlight that the company hopes to sell the aircraft to the U.S. Navy.
Tibbitts said the Navy recently issued a request for proposals for “a very compact aerial vehicle that can do ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore [flights] for cargo.” Zeva’s aircraft, which can carry payloads of up to 220 pounds, “seems like it would be a perfect fit for that,” he said. “And on top of that, we're one of the most compact eVTOLs, so you can put many of them inside a shipping container and get them out when you need them, or store them away.”
The Z2 aircraft, which is still in the design phase and has not yet been constructed, is expected to have a range of about 50 miles (80 kilometers) on a single charge and a top speed of at least 160 mph (260 km/h). Tibbitts said Zeva might be ready to reveal a completed Z2 prototype before the end of the year, although he stressed that supply-chain issues resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic could delay its construction.
Zeva’s unique design features a blended-wing configuration that looks a bit like a flying saucer on its side when the aircraft is on the ground or in hover. When transitioning to forward flight, the aircraft tilts forward. The pilot or occupant, who will start out standing inside the vehicle, will be face-down during forward flight, in what Tibbitts calls “Superman mode.”
The Z2 has a wider stance and larger propellers than the Zero, which provides the aircraft with more stability both on the ground and in the air while also making it more efficient in flight, Tibbitts told FutureFlight.
So far, Zeva has conducted only uncrewed test flights with its Zero technology demonstrator, although it has flown with a dummy passenger. Before the company can begin piloted test flights with a human on board, “there are a few things that we need to take care of, one being the ballistic parachute that needs to get installed,” Tibbitts said.
“We've done a lot of flight testing on tether and basically perfecting and honing our flight control characteristics. And then off-tether, we've been able to do low-level, almost like ground-level maneuvers and some in hover mode,” Tibbitts said. The next step will be to test the transition from hover to forward flight. “But in order to do that, we need to move to a range that's much larger,” he said. Zeva is currently operating on a small patch of land just outside Tacoma, Washington. To conduct the transitional flight tests, the company plans to bring its eVTOL to a test range in Pendleton, Oregon, after securing some additional funding.
Tibbitts said Zeva has raised about $700,000 to date, and that the Seattle-area company is in the early stages of a series A funding round in which it aims to raise $15 million. “So, we are looking for additional investors, both in private equity and venture capital,” Tibbitts said. Zeva will initially sell its eVTOL aircraft for $250,000, but the company is not yet accepting down payments from customers.
Zeva, which stands for “Zero-emissions Electric Vertical Aircraft,” launched in 2017 and initially was developing its Zero eVTOL to compete in Boeing’s GoFly competition. That competition imposed several constraints on the aircraft’s design, including its size and how much noise it could produce. Without those constraints, the company has been able to design the Z2 to be “more practical” than its predecessor, Tibbitts said.
In addition to developing the Z2, Zeva is drawing up plans for a subsequent two-person version of its eVTOL, as well as a so-called “SkyDock” that would allow the aircraft to park on the sides of tall buildings for easy access. The idea for the SkyDock stems from Zeva’s anticipation that, in the future, air taxis might “monopolize” the rooftops of buildings, leaving little room for personal eVTOLs. Zeva’s SkyDocks will give customers in high-rise buildings the ability to skip the elevators—“just ‘Batman’ off the side of the building to your next destination,” Tibbitts said.
But the SkyDock is still only an idea that Zeva has put on the back burner while the company works to bring its personal eVTOL to market. When Zeva’s vehicle first enters the market, it will be an experimental kit product and will not require the same FAA type certification as other eVTOLs designed specifically for urban air mobility. Tibbitts said he expects it will take at least two years for Zeva’s eVTOL to receive its airworthiness certification from the FAA.