Eyes on eVTOL

What’s waiting in the wings?

Things are starting to heat up in the world of electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOLs), with 2022 promising to highlight the advances being made by some of the more prominent players in the field.

Joby S4
Joby S4, photography courtesy Joby Aviation

At the top of the list is Joby Aviation’s S4. Joby has gone public and at last count its market capitalization is an attention-getting $3.8 billion. Also impressive is the company’s progress toward FAA certification. However, an accident with one its prototypes in late February will no doubt set the company back some crucial development time.

Another development is Boeing’s investment of $450 million in in partnership with Wisk Aero, a company building its Cora pilotless design pioneered by Google’s Larry Page. The company could roll out the Cora later in 2022. It could be the first autonomous eVTOL passenger aircraft certified in the United States.

Also noteworthy is Embraer’s Eve project, which has attracted $237 million from Zanite Corporation, a SPAC (special purpose acquisition company) that intends to list the Eve project—under the name Eve Holdings—on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbols EVEX and EVEXW. Beta Technologies of Burlington, Vermont, has raised $520 million, and UPS has placed orders for more than 100 of its cargo-hauling eVTOLs. A new British venture has raised $300 million in a SPAC that also put them on the New York Stock Exchange (ticker symbol EVTL).

And more deals and designs are waiting in the wings. Volocopter and Lilium appear to be focusing on larger versions of their prototype designs, as well as networks of “vertiport” landing sites. We’ve yet to hear breaking news from giants like GM, Hyundai, Honda, and other firms that have come to the party a bit later. This leaves us, as usual, waiting for many eVTOLs to mature to the point that they enter service.

But what if you’re the early adapter, trendsetting type who couldn’t care less about ridesharing? Then you could await some more personal e-powered aircraft also in the works. Maybe you like the thrills that a one-person eVTOL could provide—a sort of motorcycle of the air. Then maybe you should check out Opener’s BlackFly, an eight motor/rotor hot rod with a single seat and what the company calls takeoff and landing assist, triple-redundant fly-by-wire controls, autoland, a return-home feature, and a ballistic parachute. Opener plans to certify the BlackFly under FAR Part 103 ultralight regulations.

The BlackFly can be transported in a trailer, take on amphibious operations, and build an 80 percent charge in 25 minutes. A possible deal-killer for some is the pilot limitation: He or she can be no more than 6 feet, 6 inches tall, and weigh no more than 200 pounds. Can you imagine zipping around, nap-of-the-earth-like, for up to 25 miles? Are you a motorcycle rider who wishes your steed could somehow levitate you into an encapsulated, adrenaline-pumping three-dimensional freedom? Then get out your checkbook.

Trouble is, the BlackFly only offers T-shirts ($35) and hats ($30) right now. Pre-production models have flown 20,000 miles and made 4,300 flights—one of them at 2021’s EAA AirVenture—but even though it’s been around since 2017 there’s little information in the way of a certification date. Sales were to have begun in fall 2021, but alas, that time has passed. The price is a bit of a mystery, too. Opener only says that it would be in the range of a large SUV. If that SUV is a Range Rover, then plan to fork over at least $100,000.

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Thomas A. Horne

Thomas A. Horne

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne has worked at AOPA since the early 1980s. He began flying in 1975 and has an airline transport pilot and flight instructor certificates. He’s flown everything from ultralights to Gulfstreams and ferried numerous piston airplanes across the Atlantic.

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