Few people have done as much to popularize eVTOL aircraft and urban air mobility as Mark Moore. As a driving force behind Uber Elevate, the former NASA engineer spent years extolling the potential for electric air taxis to revolutionize urban transportation — a vision that is now well on its way to being realized, thanks to billions of dollars in recent investment.
Yet Moore didn’t have much to say about eVTOL aircraft last week when he stepped onto the stage in a big wooden barn at the Crossville-Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce Gala in Tennessee. Instead, the now CEO of Whisper Aero — a Crossville-based startup that is developing a novel electric propulsor technology — talked about airplanes. Specifically, the Whisper Jet.
“The technology that we’re developing will be an all-electric, battery-electric version of a general aviation aircraft similar to a Cirrus SR22, except it’s way better,” he told the gala crowd. “So instead of flying at 200 miles per hour, it flies at 300 miles per hour. And it has half the operating costs.”
When the first Whisper Jet comes onto the market in five years, he said, residents of rural Crossville will be able to fly to Nashville in 20 minutes instead of spending two hours in a car. And they’ll be able to do it for just $25 to $30 — less than the projected cost of an air taxi ride across L.A.
These bold claims marked the first time that Whisper Aero has discussed the Whisper Jet project in a public forum, at least that we know of. When the company emerged from stealth in July of this year — with $7.5 million in funding from investors including Abstract Ventures, FootPrint Coalition Ventures, Kindred Ventures, Lux Capital, and Menlo Ventures — Moore and co-founder Ian Villa, another Elevate alum, described only general applications for their core propulsion technology, including integration into small drones and air taxis.
Moore and Villa indicated to eVTOL.com that they hadn’t expected the gala speech to reach an audience beyond Crossville. While they weren’t yet prepared to discuss the Whisper Jet or its propulsion technology in detail, they were willing to explain why they’ve shifted their own focus from urban to regional air mobility.
“The Whisper Jet, we’re not going to explain how or why, but it’s insanely low noise, it’s incredible operating costs,” Moore said, hinting at seat costs of just $0.30 to $0.40 per mile. That’s a fraction of the costs predicted for electric air taxis, which require complex designs and more energy for vertical take-offs and landings.
Thanks to its unique propulsors, Moore added, the Whisper Jet should be able to reach speeds of 300 mph (480 km/h) at unpressurized cruising altitudes below 14,000 feet, with a much better ride quality than conventional aircraft. “When you can combine multiple dimensions of value to the customer together, that just gets so exciting that you start saying things at events that you probably shouldn’t be saying.”
According to Moore, Whisper Aero’s ambitious plans for the Whisper Jet are supported by successful testing of its core technology. The company is already on the fifth iteration of its propulsor, “and it’s looking great,” he said. “We’re actually quite a way into understanding how to integrate it, and it’s a technology that is going to really make aircraft better.”
So much better, he believes, that it will finally unlock the value proposition for regular, flexible air service to small communities like Crossville. A similar vision was outlined earlier this year in a NASA paper on regional air mobility, which noted that there are more than 5,000 under-utilized public use airports across the U.S. That existing infrastructure should make it relatively easy to deploy the Whisper Jet compared to urban air taxis, which will require the construction of specialized vertiports in dense population centers for operations at scale.
“Urban air mobility is going to serve the urban market great. It is designed for that market. The thing that always bothered me about it was leaving the rural communities behind,” Moore said.
As he and Villa explained, enhancing rural connectivity is not just a business opportunity, but a chance to meaningfully improve quality of life for millions of Americans. Whisper Jets, said Villa, could enable people “to move their businesses to places that are actually affordable, and to create new unique experiences . . . to buy affordable housing and still be able to go to work in a metropolitan area, and then also see their family that’s on the other side of the state. All of these things people just take for granted that you can’t do on a daily basis.”
“This transformation has the chance to let people really distribute and everyone have access to the same great jobs,” Moore emphasized, noting that their decision to headquarter Whisper Aero in scenic rural Tennessee was a choice to “live the future that we’re talking about.”
Moore declined to specify the number of passenger seats planned for the Whisper Jet, noting that different aircraft sizes with between four and 19 passenger seats are possible for different markets. Eviation and Heart Aerospace are actively developing nine- and 19-passenger regional electric aircraft, respectively, but as The Air Current observed recently, the economics of their business models are challenging.
To achieve the transformation that Moore and Villa are talking about, the Whisper Jet will need to stimulate the growth of a new market that replaces large numbers of car trips, not just regional flights in conventional aircraft. That’s similar to how quiet electric air taxis are expected to replace ground commutes rather than the tiny market that exists for urban helicopter flights today — but this thesis, too, has yet to be proven.
Rather than building Whisper Jets itself, Whisper Aero is looking to partner with established aircraft manufacturers on the project. “We’re already talking to companies about partnerships to do this,” Moore said.
Meanwhile, he and Villa are also starting to think about the ecosystem that will be required to support this new vision for regional air mobility. For this, they’re drawing on their experience at Uber Elevate, where they successfully mobilized diverse industry and government partners to shape the future of urban air mobility.
“It’s not enough to just have a compelling aircraft or a bunch of airports that say yeah, we want to do this. It’s about hitting a critical mass of funding and ecosystem capability prowess [so] that it clicks,” Moore said.
“That’s what we’re talking about here, is being able to have the same type of catalyst reaction for regional air mobility as what urban air mobility went through. . . . We think we know how to do that again.”