EHang 216 Flies a Small Crowd in Vienna

Well, 17 passengers, anyway. Remember that EHang flew its entire board of directors and executive team on demonstration outings in February 2018. In a more recent flight, EHang CEO HU Huazhi “commuted” via an EHang 216 (2 passengers, 16 motors and propellers).

In April this year, EHang flew apparently happy participants at Vienna’s Generali Arena as part of the 4GameChangers Festival, an international festival of – you guessed it – game changers. This year’s theme, “Europe Meets Asia,” seemed a mild precursor to the full frontal assault by EHang. For those not lucky enough to get first-hand experience in the air, displays in the Festival offered virtual and augmented reality demonstrations and ample digitally-based thrills.

EHang 216 hovering above Generali Arena in Vienna

Aviation Week reported, “An autonomous, Chinese, two-seat urban transport vehicle is not one of the most anticipated sights on the exhibition floor at EBACE (European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition), but in the realm of UAVs, things happen quickly. EHang, one of the earliest and most successful developers of such aerial craft, signed a joint agreement in Guangzhou last November with FACC of Austria, designer, developer and manufacturer of aerospace components and systems.”

FACC, (formerly Fischer Advanced Composite Components), a unit of the Chinese state-owned aerospace group Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) since 2009, is working to gain certification of EHang’s Urban Air Mobility (UAM) vehicles. The combined companies are working with the Austrian government in an amicable arrangement that seems to be speeding the paperwork along. This may be helped by the fact that “EHang is one of five local companies licensed on January 23, 2019 by the Airworthiness Department of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), to establish a risk-based UAV airworthiness management system by the end of this year, with particular regard to the use of the craft for transporting cargo, inspecting powerlines and carrying passengers.”

Since the 216 is not yet certified in Austria, flights were limited to about 30-foot altitudes within the stadium. Offering enthusiastic support, though, Austrian Transport Minister Norbert Hofer says, “We want to be at the forefront of this technology. Thousands of drones will fly in Austria!”

Transportation Minister Norbert Hofer prepares for his ride

The 216 can fly up to 150 kilometers per hour (90 mph) for almost an hour , according to FACC CEO Robert Machtlinger; or ” between 50 and 70 kilometers depending on the payload.”

Unfortunately, with 16 fairly short propellers twirling quickly, the EHang generates 90 decibels of buzzy sound, something which the company says it is trying to reduce to below 75 dBa.  This will certainly be a point of contention in many countries’ efforts to certify these aircraft.

The interesting ties between the Chinese drone maker and the Austrian government are delineated in this interview with an enthusiastic Felix Lee, Managing Directors of EHang’s overseas operations.

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BlackBird Air, Inc., an on-demand flight service operating out of San Carlos, California, has announced it intends to buy 100 eFlyer 4s and 10 eFlyer 2s from Bye Aerospace.  These will augment the firm’s existing fleet of Cirrus SR22s and Pilatus PC12s in providing service to its customers.

As the San Francisco Chronicle explains, BlackBird has been called “the Uber of air travel,” an app-driven service that enables flights to cities like Burbank, Palm Springs and Las Vegas.  Sarah Feldberg, writing for the Chronicle, runs through the niceties of this different plane rental approach.  “The interface operates like any trip-booking app until you’ve selected your date and destination. Then, BlackBird prompts you to either join an existing flight or create your own by choosing an aircraft and departure time. For $408, you can fly a three-seater [plus pilot], single-engine Cirrus SR22 from Oakland to Tahoe City on May 24, leaving roughly whenever you’d like and arriving an hour later.”  Split three ways, each person pays a mere $136 for a one hour commute with no TSA and a flight in which every seat is a window seat.

Cirrus SR22 currently flown by BlackBird uses 10-12.5 gallons per hour, produces 95 dBa inside the airplane

Those jumping on scheduled flights can pay as little as $99 for a trip of similar length.  BlackBird calculates this as being similar to, or less than, the cost of driving the same distance, coupled with the benefit of not spending hours behind the wheel.

BlackBird’s SR22s and their Pilatus PC12s burn fossil fuels and require expensive maintenance.  The SR22 consumes 10 to 12.5 gallons of 100-octane low-lead fuel every hour, and the PC12 burns 70 gallons per hour of Jet A.  Current prices in the bay area set the costs at about $55 to $60 per hour for the Cirrus and around $350 per hour for the Pilatus.

Sunflyer 4 (now eFlyer 4) in artist’s view. Once it jumps certification, logistics, and other hurdles, this and other electric aircraft could offer quiet, affordable aerial travel

The arrival of electric eFlyers should reduce energy costs for equivalent flights considerably.  “As engineer and entrepreneur Paul Touw told the Chronicle last year, based on data from the U.S. Department of Energy and Uber, an electric airplane could make a 50-mile trip at a 10 percent lower price per passenger than a standard bus — and in a third of the time.

“’This partnership will provide more flight options for cheaper,’ [CEO Rudd] Davis said of the Bye Aerospace deal. ‘If you could be in Tahoe in 45 minutes for $25, why would you ever choose to drive?’”  All of this seems quite wonderful, and might become more so with the level of quietness brought by the coming electric aircraft.  $25 would be just the operating cost, obviously.  Passengers would pay a low fare, though, for the privilege of flying in such an efficient machine.

A Devil’s Advocate

Being Uber-like means that as it now stands, BlackBird and many other airplane rental operations do not necessarily own the aircraft they make available to the flying public.  Uber’s “app” allows passengers to make deals with drivers for the use of the driver-owned vehicle.  With BlackBird purchasing 100 eFlyer 4s, this relationship may change.  One might review this interesting and probably controversial write-up by  Doug Gollan. He describes himself thus, and wrote the article with the help of an aviation attorney.  “I am Founder and Editor of Private Jet Card Comparisons, the only independent buyer’s guide to jet card membership programs, and DG Amazing Experiences, a weekly luxury travel e-newsletter for private jet owners. I am also a contributor to Forbes.com.”

For now, BlackBird Air, Inc. limits its liabilities with this statement: “BlackBird Air Inc. is not a direct air carrier or air operator and does not provide air transportation. BlackBird Air Inc. is an online marketplace and may act as an agent when facilitating flights. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy for details.”

A Noisy Business

Students at nearby Carlmont High School in Belmont have reported on the noise complaints emanating from SurfAir’s use of the PC12s in particular.  Andrew Shao headlined an article about San Carlos Airport’s noise pollution problem with “Surf Air noisily returns to San Carlos Airport.”  Camille Dunning wrote, “Noise concerns at San Carlos Airport causes complaints,” detailing meetings by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors to legislate restrictions on flight times to counter residents’ complaints.

As noted on the Scot Scoop web site, Students complete coursework on ethics, legal issues, and writing before being accepted onto the staff….”  Their reporting is excellent, and in pulling facts from other sources, highlights interesting facts.  “The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) defines “noisy aircraft” as aircraft that operates at 74.5 decibels or more (At what distance? Editor’s question).  Just 17 of the 82 types of aircraft that use San Carlos Airport operate below that threshold, according to the Mercury News.”  Although directed mainly toward Surf Air operations, the same complaints would apply to similar machines operated by BlackBird.

That damning piece of news should hasten the urge, at least, to replace our aging fleet of fossil-fuel burners with modern, quiet technology.

Peninsula and surrounding areas flight operations on Friday, Oct. 12th (2017). Green lines represent San Carlos departures, red lines represent San Carlos arrivals, and yellow lines represent all other flights. The house icon at the center top left represents Carlmont High School.  Graphic by Chris Peter

eFlyers to the Rescue

Economically and Aurally, Bye Aerospace’s eFlyers should make life better for operators and residents.  As BlackBird replaces gas-fired SR22s and Cessnas with eFlyers, noise complaints should dissipate and operating costs decline.  They will still have the problems of noise complaints for their PC12s, just as Surf Air faces.

BlackBird’s press release explains, “For over a decade, Bye Aerospace has been hard at work building the world’s first certified electric plane. These planes are 75% less expensive and 5–10 times faster than driving a car. What’s that mean for you? Think about a place you love that’s five hours away by car, likely costing more than $100 in gas each way. As soon as next year, that same place will be 45 min and $25 away with BlackBird.”  Now those numbers may be a bit optimistic, But dropping the fuel costs and substituting much less expensive electric bills should make the bottom line much more profitable.

The Chronicle article tends to confirm the optimism.  “That’s because electric motors are extremely efficient. As engineer and entrepreneur Paul Touw told the Chronicle last year, based on data from the U.S. Department of Energy and Uber, an electric airplane could make a 50-mile trip at a 10 percent lower price per passenger than a standard bus — and in a third of the time.”

A Few Hurdles Left to Clear

Forbes magazine is taking this business seriously, explaining, “Regulations are another hurdle and part of the reason it’s taken Davis three years to land on a business model. In 2015, the FAA grounded a few startups, like AirPooler and Flytenow, that had tried building a flight-sharing model by connecting private pilots to passengers willing to pay. Flytenow even tried taking its case to the Supreme Court, but the court declined to hear it and the company shut down.”

BlackBird has secured $10 million in Series A funding, according to company database Crunchbase, topping [San Francisco’s] recent funding headlines.

Davis feels that by working as a chartering service that connects passengers with pilots and planes (a lot like Uber), low prices made possible by electric flight will draw customers.

Travelers should be crowding the doors when BlackBird’s electric aircraft start flying bay area skies.  Local council meetings should calm down as quietude returns to San Carlos Airport.  Let us hope that legal and logistical hurdles aside, electric flight brings inexpensive, reliable travel to the masses.

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A great deal is made of how many great scientific discoveries are made by accident for everything from penicillin to Post-its®.   With no fewer than ten authors for the Nature letter “Production of phosphorene nanoribbons,” their discovery hardly seems “accidental.”  The letter, authored by Mitchell C. WattsLoren PiccoFreddie S. Russell-PavierPatrick L. CullenThomas S. MillerSzymon P. BartuśOliver D. PaytonNeal T. SkipperVasiliki Tileli and Christopher A. Howard, explains their happy “accident.”

A Happy Accident

“Nanoribbons, meanwhile, combine the flexibility and unidirectional properties of one-dimensional nanomaterials, the high surface area of 2D nanomaterials and the electron-confinement and edge effects of both. The structures of nanoribbons can thus lead to exceptional control over electronic band structure, the emergence of novel phenomena and unique architectures for applications.”

Layered phosphorene ribbens, when split, can be twisted to exploit different properties

The discoverers of phosphorene nanoribbons were trying to separate layers of phosphorus crystals into two-dimensional sheets, but they ended up with “tiny, tagliatelle-like ribbons one single atom thick and only 100 atoms of so across, but up to 100,000 atoms long.”  This, according to the researchers, is the width-to-length ratio of the ribbons similar to that of the cables on the Golden Gate Bridge.  Their width is “incredibly uniform but manipulable” which allows their properties to be fined tuned.  Most interestingly, they can follow contours perfectly, and even be twisted.

Tagliatelle-like phosphorene ribbons could be a delicious answer to several energy needs

The international team, with members from University College London, University of Bristol, Virginia Commonwealth University and Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne used advanced imaging methods to characterize the ribbons as extremely flat, crystalline and unusually flexible.

Corrugated Battery Material

Combining phosphorene nanoribbons ends up with corrugations that enlarge surface area – a happy circumstance for battery developers

Although one probably shouldn’t pour Bolognese sauce over these noodle-like ribbons, they do have an amazing array of transformative possibilities.  The discoverers think the corrugated structure of phosphorene nanoribbons could move the charged ions that power batteries up to 1,000 times faster than currently possible with existing materials.  This would decrease charging times and provide much greater energy energy storage capacity than conventional batteries.

As reported in Advanced Energy Materials, the combined properties of phosphorus and sodium could add up to a much more powerful battery than current lithium ion cells.  “Great research efforts have been devoted to developing alternative anode materials with superior electrochemical properties since the anode materials used are closely related to the capacity and safety characteristics of the batteries. With the theoretical capacity of 2596 mA h  g−1 (10 times the capacity of lithium ion cells now used), phosphorus is considered to be the highest capacity anode material for sodium‐ion batteries and one of the most attractive anode materials for lithium‐ion batteries.”

Easily Obtained

Sodium is much easier to obtain than lithium.  Bolivia has tons of lithium salts on its vast desert plains, for instance, but the country is not on good terms with us and has no developed infrastructure to make access to the lithium readily available.  Meanwhile, the oceans and shores of the world are ready sources for sodium.

Researchers think this breakthrough material could be used to extract energy from waste heat, produce high-performance solar cells and provide photocatalysis that would enable efficient, low-cost hydrogen extraction from water.  There is much to be explored, and phosphorene might be the next wonder material.

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Uber Elevate, headed toward its third annual meeting in Washington, D. C., has established guidelines for what it wants to see flying in its service.  Lilium, a German electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing maker, has flown a vehicle that seems to meet those guidelines.

The web site, A New Domain.net, notes, “The authors of the Uber paper point out that the high-profile German concept, the Lilium, is a ‘push to extremely high levels of distribution while coupling the vertical lift in closely with the wing high-lift system.’ The concern here, however, is that such jet-lift approaches “will require substantially higher power for takeoff and landing, with greater challenges operating quietly within cities,” according to the Uber paper.”

“From the looks of it, Lilium still looks awfully cool. Due in 2018, Lilium is an egg-shaped plane and oft noted as a key development by European Space Agency (ESA) reps. Capable of a top speed of 250mph and a range of 300 miles, it is said to require just a 50×50 foot place to take off.”

Electric Flight.eu, a great resource for new entries into the electric flight realm, reports, “Lilium celebrated another maiden flight. This time, however, with a really 1: 1 pattern of the five-seat Lilium Jet in front of its own employees.  Still rather uncertain, like a flying stork, because of still seemingly unbalanced flight control, the construction took off at the airport Oberpfaffenhofen near Munich, where the enterprise is now also settled with approximately 300 coworkers. The one-and-a-half-tonne prototype, powered by 36 electric motors, started vertically, remained hovering and again landed vertically. The Chinese IT company Tencent and other investors had already given Lilium almost 90 million euros.”

Uber Black in the Black?

Lilium’s latest might provide Uber with the revenue carrying size it needs to be profitable, if operating costs can be held within tolerable limits.  Uber keeps promising that its aerial service will cost riders no more than its ground-bound Black service.

How Much Does Uber Typically Cost?

Initial Fee Price Per Mile Price Per Minute Service Cost
uberX $0.40 $0.97 $0.14 $1.58
uberXL $2.15 $1.68 $0.26 $1.70
UberSELECT $4.02 $2.17 $0.33 $1.70
UberBLACK $7.22 $3.33 $0.44 $1.80
UberSUV $14 $4 $0.49 $0
LUX $15.65 $4.35 $0.52 $1.80

Uber explains, “You can expect to pay anywhere from $5 on up. Charges may increase if there’s a surge in rider demand since the rates are dynamic. While each ride is limited to a distance of 100 miles (160 km), always keep an eye on the upfront fare as it won’t always be the same. The average costs for each main car service are shown above.”  We can hope that the aerial fees will be less obfuscatory than this explanation.

Time or Money, or Both?

Looking at travel times on Google Maps, we can see the relative times going from San Francisco to San Jose consume.  Cars can zip along the 51 miles in about an hour on a relatively clear 101 highway.  During gridlock early in the morning or late in the day, that can go up to over two hours.  At its 168 mph cruising speed, a Lilium EV could turn that into a 20-minute trip.  It would be preferable to take the rate per minute under that scenario, if Uber would permit (doubtful).  That would make the quick ride about $35.  The per-mile rate would raise that to $178.85, a potentially tough sell for even the well-heeled.

Lilium founders: (left to right) Daniel Wiegand, Sebastian Born, Patrick Nathen, Matthias Meiner

One can take CalTran between the two cities for $9.95 one way, or $21.00 for a day pass.  Depending on day or weekend schedules, the trip between San Francisco and San Jose will take around one hour and 20 minutes.  So, time and money can be deciding factors, although a quick aerial jaunt would have enough excitement to cause some to make that choice.

Building a New Infrastructure

Uber had an architectural competition for Skyports that would support the rapid dispatch and retrieval of Uber Elevate vehicles.  John Badalamenti, uber’s head of design for advanced programs and aviation, said “while uberair might feel like a far away dream, it’s closer than you think and urban infrastructure has to start to evolve now to keep up.  Such visions need solid ground underneath, and sites need to be located and purchased at the earliest possible date, since land prices will only increase in the future.

Note the need for connections to freeways, highways, bus routes and rail connections.  Somehow, all those Elevate passengers have to have easy access to the Skyports to make the aerial trips worth the possible premium prices, and then achieve ground times that will support the short flight times.

As with electric aircraft and eVTOLs, the vehicles themselves, their motors, controllers, and control systems all seem well proven and reliable at this point.  Batteries still need work.  The biggest impediment to future success may be in the ground support systems required to maintain the goals achieved in flight.

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Fortune magazine headlined its article about Zipline drones with this teaser: “The Trick to Achieving Universal Health Care? Drones.”  The article quotes Zipline International CEO Keller Rinaudo concerning the logistics of today’s health care systems, which “really only serve the ‘golden billion’ people on the planet.”  Fortune adds, “Millions more die from lack of care.”

Rinaudo spoke to Fortune’s Brainstorm Health Conference in San Diego, and explained how his Silicon Valley technology delivers 60-percent of Rwanda’s national blood supply – by drone.  About half of the blood goes to mothers suffering from postpartum hemorrhaging.

With excellent results in Rwanda, Zipline will set up four distribution centers in Ghana, starting on April 24.  These centers will serve about 20 million people.  Fortune explains, “For Rinaudo, drones are a way for a nation to access universal health care almost overnight. Call it a golden idea.”

Time is Worth More than Money in the Medical World

Evan Ackerman and Michael Koziol report in the IEEE Spectrum that they drove from “the small town of Muhanga to the even smaller town of Kinazi,” a 50-kilometer journey.   It took “well over an hour” to rendezvous with a Zipline drone that made the trip in under 14 minutes.  Granted, the roads in Rwanda are pretty awful, and there are thousands of hills encroaching trucks along the way, the two-motor drone does show some “zip.”  The writers arrive in time to see the drone open its bombay-like doors and drop a red parachute carrying containers of blood near the local hospital’s parking lot.

Two “Fulfillment Centers” supply drone deliveries to virtually all of Rwanda.  Illustration: IEEE Spectrum

Zipline relies on some pretty sophisticated infrastructure in a country with roads sometimes hardly worthy of the name.  Despite having been in the throes of a civil war and genocide in the 1990s, the government started a program called Vision 2020 that emphasized technology infrastructure, including fiber optics and 4G cellular networks that now cover 95 percent of the population.

13,864 Deliveries

On its web site, Zipline numbers its life-saving deliveries, counted at 13,824 last night when your editor started his research, and now at 13,864 less than 18 hours later.  How does Zipline manage such productivity?  From its distribution centers in Muhanga and Kayonza, and with drones capable of flying 80 kilometers (49.6 miles) each way out and return, Zipline can deliver to virtually any hospital in the small country.

Eli Whitney and Henry Ford Still Inspire

Identical components, stored in Zipline fulfillment center, are assembled by technicians in preparation for delivery flight.   Note catapult in background. Illustration: IEEE Spectrum

The drones are stacked neatly at each distribution, or fulfillment center, with battery packs being charged and cargo holds awaiting their precious cargo.  A WhatsApp message comes in to the “nest,” as Zipline calls its fulfillment centers, and workers have the drone ready to deliver in no longer than 10 minutes.  (Operators want to shorten that to one minute.)  When a technician plugs the battery pack into the airplane, he or she has also loads the flight plan as part of that pack.  Another technician loads a box containing the blood or other required cargo in the bomb bay.  The team mounts the wings in place and secures them with what look like a pair of over-center latches.  Scanning QR codes, workers perform a pre-flight checklist with what seem to be failsafe precision.

With only a few major components to be assembled before each trip, Zips, as the drones are called, are simple, meet the range requirements for the mission, and have redundancy in things like dual motors and dual ailerons to ensure successful completion of that mission.

Future plans call for lighter battery packs and 1.75-kilogram (3.85-pound) payloads compared to the 1.3 kilograms (2.86 pounds) currently carried, enabling the Zips to deliver three blood packs instead of only two.  IEEE reports, “It will also have a receiver for transponder signals from other aircraft, a backup communication system that uses a satellite link, and onboard sense-and-avoid equipment that will, [Eric] Watson (a systems engineer at Zipline) says, “be able to detect and avoid uncooperative aircraft in our airspace.” This advanced feature will likely become a safety-critical system for delivery drones as the skies get more crowded.”

That’s an innovation-packed future for the tiny country, and it shows a way to integrate such drones into even our own crowded airspace.

Zipline’s drones are modular. When an order comes in, technicians snap together the three main components: the lightweight foam chassis [1], the wings [2], and the battery unit [3], which also contains the flight plan. Scanning QR codes [4] initiates automatic preflight tests of the drone’s systems. To keep the drone flying in the event of a minor mechanical failure, it has two motors [5] and redundant ailerons [6] on the wings that help maintain flight control. The drone’s cargo compartment [7] contains the package of blood until it’s parachuted down to the delivery site.To obviate the need for a lengthy runway for takeoffs and landings, an electric catapult launches the drone, and a wire strung between towers captures the returning drone by snagging a 3-centimeter metal hook [8] on the drone’s tail.  Illustration: Chris Philpot

The full IEEE article appears in the May 2019 print issue as “The Blood Is Here.”

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Straight out of Compton/Woodley

We don’t normally republish complete press releases, but this example from Taja Boscarol at Pipistrel, the Slovenian electric aircraft company, seems worthy of a full reading.

Los Angeles County Promoting Green Aviation

Compton/Woodley Airport Acquires Pipistrel Alpha Electro Aircraft & Charging Station

Los Angeles County Public Works, in partnership with Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum welcomed the nation’s first commercial electric aircraft charging station at Compton/Woodley Airport.  The Pipistrel  SkyCharge  docking  station will  support the museum’s two ALPHA Electro  Light  Sport all-electric  aircraft and  ultimately other electric  aircraft  in  the  future  as  electric  aircraft gain interest.

Sleek look of Pipistrel chargers compliment Alpha Electro Trainer’s design

The SkyCharge docking station allows two aircraft to simultaneously charge an empty battery in 45 minutes.

​Expansion of Electric Aircraft at the County-owned Airports

Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum is planning to install additional Pipistrel SkyCharge docking stations throughout the County of Los Angeles system of airports. San Gabriel Valley Airport, located in the City of El Monte, will be next to receive the docking stations. As the ALPHA Electro and other electric aircraft become more abundant and availability of the SkyCharge docking stations expands, pilot training and general aviation overall will become greener – quieter, cleaner, more sustainable, affordable, and compatible with the environment and local communities.

Robin Petgrave, founder and executive director of Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum, shows one of two Pipistrel Alpha Electros to be based at Compton/Woodley near  the Museum

Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum

Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum is a non-profit organization at Compton/Woodley Airport, which supports the surrounding communities through aviation education, interactive after school programs such as STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics] education, and flight training. The Museum introduces disadvantaged youth to flight and provides a pathway to employment in the aviation industry and beyond. 

The ALPHA Electro

The video depicts the first takeoff by an Alpha Electro from Fresno Chandler’s  airport (KFCH).

The Pipistrel ALPHA Electro Light Sport is a 2-seat, single-engine, all-electric aircraft designed and manufactured in Europe specifically for flight training. The aircraft operates on a zero-emission lithium-ion battery, a sustainable source of energy which significantly reduces geenhouse gases. In addition, a recent study performed by Pipistrel showed that the ALPHA Electro operates at much quieter noise levels than do its gas-powered counterparts. The aircraft are currently certified to operate in rural areas and are in use at Fresno Chandler Executive Airport. Certification    from the FAA to allow for operation of the ALPHA Electro within urban areas including the Los Angeles metropolitan area is anticipated to occur soon. Following certification, Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum will immediately put them to use at Compton/Woodley Airport.

Formulated by Joseph Oldham, the Sustainable Aviation Project brought Pipistrel Alpha Electro’s to the San Fernando Valley last year, and is preparing to offer flight training to disadvantaged youth at four different airports in the region.

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Eviation is an Israeli aircraft company which believes in giving its customers a choice.  About to be shown at the Paris Air Show in July, Eviation’s Alice will be offered with either Siemens motors or MagniX units.  Air show visitors will see the craft with three Magnix 250 motors producing 375-horsepower each.  Roei Ganzarski, MagniX CEO says “They’re going to have a fully functioning aircraft, their first of type, at the Paris Air Show.  Our propulsion system is going to be on it.”

MagniX Magni250 motor – three of which will power Eviation’s Alice

Eviation’s nine-seat Alice is a bit of a trip through the looking glass, looking like a futurist’s dream machine.  The modern tri-motor features such light construction that it can carry three tons of batteries to provide 650 mile range.  Ganzarski explains, “That means you can easily do Seattle-San Francisco or other significant-range flights.  It’s a real long-range commuter aircraft.”

Why Two Different Motors?

Only a few months after announcing its use of Siemens motors on its Alice, Eviation says it has selected Redmond, Wash.-based MagniX to become a propulsion system provider. The company announced its partnership with MagniX on its Twitter page

In an interview with GeekWire.com, Ganzarski explains, “Once you can have an aircraft like the Alice that operates at such a low cost compared to traditional aircraft, and is clean, we both believe that will create a new type of market that doesn’t exist today. It won’t be filled by the regional carriers, but rather by new types of companies that will set up services for movement of either people or goods — for example, delivery companies — and they’ll be able to do that by air, covering more distance at a much lower cost than trucks can.”

According to Forbes.com, Eviation is working “feverishly” to prepare Alice for the Paris Air Show, June 17 through 23.  Following its static display, the airplane will be transported to the United States to under flight testing and coordination with the FAA to prepare for certification.  Headquartered in Israel, Eviation wants to have the plane certified by the end of 2021 and aims to start delivering the planes to customers in 2022.

Forbes reported in February, “The 35-employee company is getting its funding and supply chain squared away. It says it’s secured the roughly $200 million it needs to get through certification, and it announced Wednesday that it will source high-power electric motors from Siemens.”

Part of having two motor suppliers is to ease demands on the supply chain, so it added a Magnix option in late April.  That choice may also relate to Eviation’s funding source.

Forbes reports, “The lion’s share of its funding is from Clermont Group, the private investment fund of Singapore-based billionaire Richard Chandler, which is giving Eviation $76 million in exchange for notes convertible to a 70% stake in the company, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission dated January 3.”  Chandler has also invested heavily in MagniX.

Alice will be assembled and tested in Prescott, Arizona. Leland Moreno-Hilburn, executive director and general manager for Eviation Aircraft Inc., says up to 20 personnel will be involved in integration and certification programs.

MagniX has also partnered with Vancouver, B. C.-based Harbour Air, and plans to convert the 40-airplane fleet to electric power, starting with the regional carrier’s DeHavilland Beavers, expected to be electrified by late this year or early next year.  This will be huge production ramp-up for the small motor firm, and will see their motors on a sleek new design and a 1950’s bush plane.

Harbour Air’s DeHavilland Beavers, Otters and Twin Otters will soon be powered by MagniX electric motors

On the sleeker side, Eviation’s CEO Omer Bar-Yohay says, “We have been successfully testing the MagniX system with our Alice aircraft propeller for quite some time now, with great results.  We will begin manufacturing battery-powered fleets this year for our U.S. regional carrier customers, with a value proposition that reduces their operating costs by up to 70 percent.”

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Cuberg Battery Flies 70 Percent Longer

Cuberg’s recent test between their battery and a conventional lithium-ion battery resulted in the Cuberg battery keeping a drone flying 70-percent longer.  Given that the test is for two packs of equal weight, the result is an impressive one.

Cuberg’s co-founder and CEO has prepared for this success since his undergraduate days as a SURF (Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship) Fellow, putting his summer vacations to good use.  He used the knowledge and experience he gained in three summer fellowships to help lead a dozen students “to design and develop innovative and efficient mechanical systems (including HVAC, hot water, insulation, appliances, and more) for the Solar Decathlon net-zero house competition.”  The team won first place in the hot water contest and second place in the engineering contest in the Decathlon.

Since then, he worked as an intern at Tesla Motors, using “physical, chemical, and electrochemical characterization techniques to study the degradation mechanisms of Li-ion batteries at the Cell Research Lab.” This led to the discovery of “a novel degradation mechanism in the battery cathode.”

He was a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford under Dr. Yi Cui from 2011 to 2016, and acted as an engineering advisor. Obviously talented, he was accepted into Cyclotron Road, Cyclotron Road, “A home for top entrepreneurial researchers to advance technologies until they can succeed beyond the research lab. Its purpose: support critical technology development and help identify the most suitable business models, partners, and financing mechanisms for long-term impact.”

The long-term impact of his firm’s batteries may be significant. With batteries being the major obstacle to hundreds of enterprises embarking on the road to producing viable electric vertical takeoff and landing or conventional aircraft, 70-percent improvements in range and endurance are noteworthy.

The company’s web site defines Richard Wang’s goals for it. “Cuberg is an energy startup company developing a new generation of safer and higher energy batteries based on an entirely new chemistry coming out of research at Stanford University. Our technology will power the portable electronics of the future and bring about electric vehicles with improved affordability and range.”

Cuberg’s battery structure.  A great deal depends on the stable electrolyte that makes the use of a lithium metal anode possible.

A big part of Cuberg’s success comes from its electrolyte, the source of concern in conventional Li-ion cells. Cuberg notes that scaling up the energy demand on batteries makes their fire hazard grow.   Not being able to vent gases from a hot battery leads to overheating and thermal runaway. Cuberg’s electrolyte is stable, even when overheated. Their electrolyte can even be incorporated into existing batteries, with safer operation as a result. But Cuberg’s combination of a lithium metal anode, proprietary electrolyte, and high-energy cathode probably enabled that 70-percent endurance advantage in their recent test.

We can hardly wait for the company to achieve commercial breakthroughs that equal their battery advancements. Boeing and the Department of Energy have helped with funding in the last year, with Boeing having a vested interest in seeing company possibly provide batteries for their Zunum electric airliners.

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First Drone Delivery of a Kidney

Meredith Cohn of the Baltimore Sun reported, “The first-ever organ delivered by drone was transplanted into a patient with kidney failure at the University of Maryland Medical Center, capping more than three years of work to show unmanned aircraft can safely transport life-saving organs and tissue.”

Note one doctor in the video, making a homage to Apollo 11: “One small hop for a drone, one major leap for medicine.”  Note the cheers of waiting personnel when the drone lands successfully.

As reported in Aero-News Network, “On Friday, April 19th, at approximately 12:30 am, a human donor kidney was loaded onto the UMMC drone. The flight, led by the University of Maryland UAS Test Site at St. Mary’s County, commenced at 1:00 am. The vehicle traveled 2.6 miles and flew for approximately 10 minutes. The human kidney was successfully delivered to University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) and was scheduled to be used for a transplant surgery at 5:00 am.”

Cohn reports that Dr. Joseph Scalea, a UMMMC transplant surgeon, was frustrated by the slowness and costs of relying on commercial flights and charters.  Researching “faster means,” he found drones offered possibilities.

At a news conference, Scalea explained, “This new technology has the potential to help widen the donor organ pool and access to transplantation.  Delivering an organ from a donor to a patient is a sacred duty with many moving parts. It is critical that we find ways of doing this better.”

Aero-News explains the urgency: “Organ transplants have a limited window of cold ischemia time (CIT) in which an organ can be chilled and then have blood supply restored. As of January 2019, almost 114,000 individuals were on the national transplant waiting list and every day approximately 80 people receive organ transplants, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing – the nonprofit that manages the transplant system. For sensitive medical deliveries, reducing the amount of travel time in urban settings, as well as vibration during travel can help lead to better outcomes.”

UMMMC personnel gather around drone that would deliver a world first

Cohn’s story highlights the need for timely and safe delivery.  She reports that a human heart was left on a [airliner] and when retrieved, fortunately had valves still usable.

The Sacramento Bee reported, “More than an hour into the connecting flight to Dallas, the pilot turned around, leading to a five-hour delay for passengers.

“In a statement, [the airline] said, “the shipment was delivered to its destination within the window of allotted time by our cargo customer. Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our customers and the safe delivery of the precious cargo we transport every day.”

“Valve tissue has a 48-hour window of viability. Amazingly, the heart made it in time to save the life of its intended recipient.”  Protocols and procedures to prevent this type of admittedly rare slip-up will probably be a high priority for future organ deliveries.

AiRXOS, a unit of GE Aviation that participated in the demonstration reported, that the organ was flown 2.6 miles in 10 minutes across Baltimore from St. Agnes Hospital to the Maryland hospital downtown in the early morning for the transplant.   Such a trip takes 15-20 minutes by car depending on traffic.

Seeing other countries with transportation infrastructure gaps that manage to deliver blood, retrieve tests and samples, and deliver life-saving drugs and equipment over impassable terrain should give us hope.  We can hope that drones will make it possible to speed necessary medical treatments and transplants while avoiding the gridlock of our extremely well-developed infrastructure.

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Honda’s Fluoride Battery

Can the stuff that protects your teeth find happiness storing electrical energy?  Researchers are brushing up on their chemistry to produce a fluoride battery – almost the total opposite of a lithium battery.  Three years ago, The Journal of Fluorine Chemistry quibbled, “Only a handful of publications exist on the topic of fluoride ion batteries (FIBs). These are electrochemical cells in which a negative anion—fluoride—enables charge transport. In this review, we will report, for the first time, an extensive theoretical screening of FIBs as well as an analysis of the safety and toxicity of electrochemical couples of such batteries.”   It continued with an exploration of high-temperature (150° C, or 302° F) and room-temperature examples of fluoride cells and ended with comparisons of seven different cathode and nine different anode materials “to further illustrate the potential and issues of such battery systems.”

Now, Honda, researchers from the California Institute of Technology (CalTech), NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a scientist now at Purdue are finding new ways to make Fluoride live up to its promise.  Researchers hope to achieve a more powerful storage device which is more environmentally friendly, Honda reports, “The collective team of scientists co-authored a new paper on the topic that was published in Science and is available here.

The abstract for their paper explains: “Fluoride ion batteries are potential ‘next-generation’ electrochemical storage devices that offer high energy density. At present, such batteries are limited to operation at high temperatures because suitable fluoride ion–conducting electrolytes are known only in the solid state. We report a liquid fluoride ion–conducting electrolyte with high ionic conductivity, wide operating voltage, and robust chemical stability based on dry tetraalkylammonium fluoride salts in ether solvents. Pairing this liquid electrolyte with a copper–lanthanum trifluoride (Cu@LaF3) core-shell cathode, we demonstrate reversible fluorination and defluorination reactions in a fluoride ion electrochemical cell cycled at room temperature. Fluoride ion–mediated electrochemistry offers a pathway toward developing capacities beyond that of lithium ion technology.”

Dr. Christopher Brooks, Chief Scientist, Honda Research Institute, and a co-author of the paper notes, “Fluoride-ion batteries offer a promising new battery chemistry with up to ten times more energy density than currently available Lithium batteries.  Unlike Li-ion batteries, FIBs do not pose a safety risk due to overheating, and obtaining the source materials for FIBs creates considerably less environmental impact than the extraction process for lithium and cobalt.”

Yin and Yang, Positive and Negative

Brett Savoie, formerly with the team at Honda et al., has risen from post-doc student to assistant professor at Purdue University, where he has added an important component to making the fluoride battery a reality.  In a true yin and yang opposition, lithium batteries can be made safer by using a solid-state electrolyte in their composition, while fluoride batteries can be made to work at room temperature with safety by liquefying their electrolyte.

The same fluoride that helps prevent tooth cavities will soon challenge its electrical counterpart on the periodic table, lithium, for better batteries, thanks to improvements that advance the technology. (Purdue University image/Brett Savoie)

Savoie explains the potential superiority of fluoride batteries.   “Fluoride-based battery electrodes can store more ions per site than typical lithium-ion electrodes, which means that this technology has the capability to be much more energy dense.”

The Purdue press release about Savoie’s liquefying material explains that lithium and fluoride share another yin-and-yang relationship: “lithium is the most electropositive element on the Periodic Table, meaning that it likes to lose electrons, while fluoride is the most electronegative element, only wanting to acquire electrons. Giving lithium electrons it doesn’t want stores energy, while taking electrons away from fluoride also stores energy.”

Savoie helped create BTFE, Bis (2,2,2-Trifluorethyl) ether, an electrolyte co-solvent that enables fluoride ions to dissolve better into a liquid electrolyte.  This will help fluoride batteries to perform well at room temperatures.

Next steps include making the battery reliable at high voltages and keeping the cathodes and anodes from dissolving in the electrolyte.  Researchers are working on stabilizing the copper electrodes.

The technology could then move toward unseating lithium, a cation-based battery, as the first high-performing, anion-based rechargeable battery.

Battery testing is underway. The work was supported by the Resnick Sustainability Institute and the Molecular Materials Research Center, both at Caltech, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy Office of Science and the Honda Research Institute.

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