Electra.aero has started test flights with the two-seat technology demonstrator it is using to develop its nine-passenger hybrid-electric STOL aircraft. On Monday, the company announced that the EL-2 Goldfinch first took off from the company’s headquarters at Manassas Regional Airport in Virginia on November 11 for an all-electric flight and used hybrid-electric power for a second flight on November 19.
According to Electra’s vice president and general manager, JP Stewart, the hybrid-electric flight lasted 23 minutes, reaching an altitude of 3,200 feet and covering a distance of around 30 miles. For both this and the earlier flight, Cody Allee was the pilot. "We have already explored the stability and control of the aircraft and will now start expanding the envelope at higher and lower speeds at higher altitudes, and will then work on STOL takeoffs and landings, as well as demonstrating the acoustics," Stewart explained to AIN.
Electra unveiled the Goldfinch, which is about the size of a Cessna 172 light aircraft, at an event on June 12. Like the planned full-scale production aircraft, it features a blown lift wing design and a distributed electric propulsion system consisting of eight motors and a turbogenerator that recharges batteries in flight.
Blown-wing technology (sometimes referred to as "blown lift") involves an aerodynamic effect in which—by increasing the flow of air over the wing—the lift is generated at a much slower airspeed than with conventional aircraft. This is a key factor in the anticipated STOL performance of Electra’s design and also is expected to improve energy efficiency.
Full-scale Prototype in Development
Flight data from the test campaign will be used to complete the design of a full-scale prototype that Electra aims to have ready to fly in 2026. It is targeting type certification under FAA’s Part 23 rules in 2028. The U.S. Air Force has contributed $30 million towards an $85 million fund also supported by private sector contributions to finance the work.
Work on a full-scale pre-production prototype is being supported by a previously announced strategic funding increase (STRATFI) partnership valued at up to $85 million. This includes $30 million from the U.S. Air Force's Afwerx Agility Prime program, as well as private investments and matching Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding.
In June, Electra announced that Safran is developing a 600-kilowatt electric propulsion system for the nine-passenger aircraft. This unit will include a gas turbine based on the French group’s Arrano turboshaft engine driving GeneUs electric motors.
The production version of the Electra aircraft will have ground rolls as short as 150 feet, allowing it to operate from short landing strips of around 300 feet in length, including sites in urban areas. The company is projecting an operating range of up to 500 miles and speeds of 200 mph and expects its ability to access places not previously open to fixed-wing aircraft to support multiple new civil and military applications.
“The aim of Electra is to fill a gap in air travel between 50 and 500 miles, where most trips today are made by automobile," said Electra founder and CEO John Langford. "The key to saving time is to operate close in, which means getting in and out of small spaces quietly and safely, while still being fast enough to cover long distances. Electra will be able to take you from downtown Manhattan not only to [New York] Kennedy Airport but to Washington, D.C. It will bring air service to thousands of communities where air travel today is not a practical or affordable option. It also opens vast new opportunities for middle-mile cargo logistics.”
According to Electra, more than 30 prospective operators have placed preorders for more than 1,700 of the aircraft. This backlog is provisionally valued at more than $6 billion.