The AirVenture is an annual aviation extravaganza that the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) bills as “the world’s greatest aviation celebration,” held in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Well more than half a million pilots, aviation enthusiasts and aerial thrill seekers land at Wittman Regional Airport. Nearly every inch of green space is filled with more than 10,000 airplanes, jets, ultralights and hot air balloons at this fly-in convention. If it can fly, it’s here.
I explored the massive event with photographer, John D. Ivanko, searching the latest in aviation trends. We couldn’t miss the Urban Air Mobility and Innovation Showcase in EAA’s Aviation Gateway Park near the front gate. As more people live in the city and more time is spent commuting in increasingly congested urban areas, technology is rapidly changing to allow for both electric-vertical-take-off-and-landing (known as eVTOL) and personal-aerial-vehicles (PAVs), fostering breakthroughs in urban aerial mobility (UAM).
History was made in October, 2011, with the first flight of the BlackFly, a fixed-wing, all-electric VTOL ultralight aircraft piloted by a human passenger. The electrification of transportation may have started on the ground with Tesla leading the way; now this electrification moving to transform air travel.
While there were many concepts and prototypes on display in the Urban Air Mobility and Innovation Showcase, like Embraer’s EmbraerX and Airbus by A-3 Group’s Vahana, Opener’s BlackFly seemed to be the first electric VTOL we’ll likely see plying the skies above our heads. Capable of traveling distances of up to 35 miles (limited to 25 miles in USA) and at speeds of up to 75 miles-per-hour (limited to 62-mph in USA), the BlackFly’s innovative design earned its Founder and CEO, Marcus Leng, the EAA’s 2019 August Raspet Award in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the advancement of light aircraft design.
“We believe that the future of transportation is electric, both on the ground and in the air,” says Ben Diachun, President of Opener. “Clean and efficient, electric propulsion is the system best capable of producing the power and fidelity-of-control for practical eVTOL PAVs.” For those rural residents who commute into small towns or cities for work or projects, eVTOLs may significantly reduce commute times, assuming such places are within the range of the aircraft. The BlackFly can be launched from a small patch of grass or even a pond or lake, since it also floats. If you make enough of your own power with a solar electric system like we do and could recharge an eVTOL with solar power, the BlackFly can truly be a sustainable mobility option.
According to Opener, the BlackFly will be available in late 2019 in the Silicon Valley, California area, be simple to master, and requires no formal licensing or special skills to operate safely in the US. The launch of a commercially available vehicle will be based on maintaining quality, adhering to safety standards and other production variables. That said, more than 2,300 test flights have been logged with the aerial vehicle traversing more than 23,000 miles.
“We believe that eVTOL PAVs will be the future of urban transportation systems,” adds Diachun. “They will reduce and eventually eliminate the inefficiencies of our current gridlocked transportation networks. Operating from small areas, BlackFly is clean, quiet and efficient and has the ability to transport individual commuters quickly throughout an urban and rural landscape.”
Opener’s zero-emission, single-seat BlackFly eVTOL has many features commonly found on consumer drones, like position hold where the aircraft can hover in place, plus take-off and landing assist. At 245 Watt hours per mile, the BlackFly is more energy efficient than an electric car (about 270 Watt hours per mile) and significantly more efficient than a gasoline-powered vehicle (about 1,233 Watt hours per mile). Recharge time is a little over an hour at 240 Volt / 50 A. It has numerous safety features including triple-modular redundancy, 8 fixed propulsion units, 4 redundant elevon pairs and a ballistic parachute.
“EAA AirVenture is known for not only saluting the remarkable legacy of flight and its innovators, but also where the newest concepts are unveiled to the world,” said Dave Chaimson, EAA’s vice president of marketing and business development. Four major forums were hosted on new flight technology at EAA’s Aviation Gateway Park addressing such timely topics as aerial delivery systems (i.e., package delivery by electric drones), air taxis and ambulances, personal aerial vehicles, and noise issues in urban areas.
The first-generation BlackFly will be permanently on display at the EAA Aviation Museum in Oshkosh. “BlackFly is an exciting addition to the Museum’s collection of historic aircraft,” says Rick Larsen, vice president of Chapters, Communities and Museum at EAA, in a release. “The Opener team tackled complicated problems, innovated modern battery and motor technologies, and showed the world that eVTOL is real. It is an honor to showcase this pioneering electric personal aerial vehicle.”
“BlackFly already has full autonomous flight capability,” says Diachun, looking to the future. “Much of our testing is conducted using this feature. Releasing this capability to the general public, however, will require us to add additional safeguards to ensure the feature is used in a legally responsible way.” This autonomous feature comes as no surprise, since all-electric Tesla vehicles have been designed for autonomous transportation from the start and are the safest cars on the road today.
Liam Kiviristis a tech writer, drone pilot, computer hardware geek, fledgling programmer and freelance web developer. Based on a small organic farm in rural southwestern Wisconsin, Liam marries his deeply rooted love of the outdoors, food, and camping with his passion for technology. Connect with Liam onTwitter, atTechSocket.netandwww.liamkivirist.com.
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