Lyte Aviation is exploring the basis for hybrid-electric VTOL flights to replace ferries to connect island communities in the Seattle area with its planned 40-seat SkyBus LA-44 aircraft. The European start-up unveiled plans for the tandem tilt-wing design in March and is working toward projected type certification and service entry in 2030.
This week, Lyte announced a joint development project with the Advanced Air Mobility Institute to develop a business case for routes such as from Bainbridge Island to Seattle and Redmond on the Washington state mainland. The partners contrasted the 30 km/hour (19 mph) speed of the ferry with SkyBus’s anticipated 300 km/hour speed.
Initially, four turboprop engines fitted in pairs to each of the wings will power the aircraft. On each wingtip, a hydrogen fuel cell electric motor will provide additional power.
Lyte’s ultimate objective is to rework the aircraft with all-hydrogen propulsion but first, it wants to lay the groundwork for a VTOL aircraft that it believes will transform regional aviation through its ability to bypass existing airports.
According to Lyte Aviation founder and CEO Freshta Farzam, a high-capacity VTOL aircraft with 10 times the passenger capacity of most in-development eVTOL vehicles intended for urban air mobility will deliver greater commercial potential for operators. The company is also working on a cargo version of the aircraft, called the SkyTruck LA-44C, with a payload of 4.5 tons (9,900 pounds).
An End to Hard Commutes at Software Giant Microsoft
In addition to downtown Seattle, the partners are including the suburb of Redmond in their study because it is home to IT giant Microsoft. “There are almost 53,000 employees traveling each day over waterways and congested roadways,” Farzam said. “It makes this air transportation alternative a fascinating use case for us. Soon, after a long day of work, the daily commute of around 40 kilometers [25 miles] will take only 10 minutes instead of 90 minutes. The SkyBus can take off from a landing pad at the Microsoft campus and land at a vertiport on the island. The future is faster and more feasible than we realize.”
The AAM Institute’s core mission is to make new transportation technology widely available “in an ethical and responsible way for the protection of the people who rely on it.” Founder and president Dan Sloat believes this will require a bold approach and says his organization “welcomes the chance to work with dreamers and disruptors like Freshta Farzam.”
The SkyBus could have a range as long as 1,000 kilometers. For the first iteration of the aircraft, Lyte Aviation will likely use existing turboprop engines with a power rating of between 3,500 and 5,000 hp. It says these will be able to run on both jet-A and sustainable aviation fuel.
Having begun working on the program three years ago with initial seed financing from private investors, Lyte Aviation is now preparing to launch a Series A funding round. The first objective will be to build a full-scale prototype by 2024.