A new startup called Jump Aero aims to create a fast, agile eVTOL aircraft specifically for use by first responders traveling to the scenes of emergencies.
Based in Petaluma, California, the new venture is headed by Dr. Carl Dietrich, an MIT-trained aerospace engineer who led the flying car company Terrafugia from its founding in 2006 through its acquisition by China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group — the automotive group that also owns Volvo Cars and Lotus.
Joining him as co-founders are fellow MIT alumni Jeff Myjak, president of the composite boat manufacturing company Still Water Design; and Anna Dietrich, previously Terrafugia’s chief operating officer and now co-executive director of the Community Air Mobility Initiative.
According to Carl Dietrich, Jump Aero will leverage its founders’ considerable expertise in eVTOL aircraft technology to serve a critical market that has been largely overlooked by companies racing to develop air taxis for urban air mobility.
“I spent a number of years looking at various business concepts for eVTOL, and this summer after having left Terrafugia I decided to take another look at the market and where a startup could add some unique value to this emerging ecosystem,” Dietrich told eVTOL.com.
While he sees “a lot of potential” in the urban air mobility space, there are “also a lot of challenges that need to be overcome, and I think you need the deep pockets of a major enterprise to tackle a lot of the uncertainty that’s associated with that marketplace,” he said.
Instead, Dietrich continued, Jump Aero’s founders sought “an application of this technology that may be very readily accepted by society, that may not get as much hype right now as air taxis . . . but might actually wind up being a faster path to a real market.” A vehicle intended to shorten emergency response times emerged as a natural fit.
According to Dietrich, the concept of operations associated with eVTOL use by first responders “lines up really nicely with the capabilities and, frankly, the shortcomings of eVTOL technology.”
One such capability is the potential for an eVTOL aircraft to deploy in a fraction of the time required for a conventional helicopter.
“With an all-electric aircraft, you’re not doing an engine run-up, you’re not waiting for the oil to heat up, you can start it up and shut it down incredibly rapidly,” Dietrich said. “Electric motors have basically instant ‘on’ capability without a warm-up period, and similarly without a cool-down period. You can just shut it down and get right out of the aircraft. You don’t have to wait for a hot section to cool down or anything like that.”
Eliminating costly engines and transmission systems should make eVTOL aircraft more economical to operate, especially over many short cycles. They can also incorporate wings for high-speed cruise flight, and Jump Aero thinks it can design an aircraft with a top speed in excess of 200 miles per hour (320 kilometers per hour).
The most obvious shortcomings of fully electric aircraft are the limits placed on range and payload by today’s battery technology. But these should be less critical in first responder applications where no additional passengers are carried, and where many missions will take less than 10 minutes, Dietrich said.
Jump Aero envisions elite cadres of first responders — perhaps paramedics or law enforcement officers — using its eVTOL aircraft to reach emergency scenes faster than they could otherwise. The founders aim to cut average emergency response times in half, which could make a life-or-death difference in situations such as cardiac arrest.
A conventional ground ambulance or medical helicopter would follow to the scene as required.
“This is not replacing a medevac helicopter; in fact, medevac helicopters I think are really well suited for that particular mission,” Dietrich said. “The mission that we are [targeting], aircraft are not used for today. So it’s something that’s truly enabled by electric VTOL aircraft.”
The company expects to deploy its aircraft in rural areas first, where the potential value to the end user is especially high due to large coverage areas and limited numbers of emergency response personnel. It also sees promise for the concept in suburban areas.
Jump Aero has “done enough conceptual design work to have confidence we can make a vehicle that will provide the value that we’re talking about,” said Dietrich. However, the design has not been finalized — and the company made a deliberate decision to reveal its plans at an early stage in order to solicit feedback from potential customers.
“The purpose of us coming out at this time is to try to engage with first responder organizations that are interested in the potential of this type of technology to save lives,” Dietrich explained, encouraging prospective end users to contact the company through the Jump Aero website. “It is kind of a risk for a startup to come out and say, ‘Hey, we’re doing this, and we’re at an early stage’ . . . but it’s much, much more important to us that we’re getting the requirements right.”
Dietrich said that while Jump Aero’s eventual vehicles will incorporate a high degree of automation, they won’t be autonomous. The human operator will still be responsible for decisions such as whether and where the aircraft will land, “based on the various factors that a human has to weigh in an emergency situation,” he said.
For that reason, he continued, the first responders at the controls “will require training, they will require experience in flight situations, and simulator time, and things of that nature where you put them through various scenarios, and you give them practice making decisions. The nice thing we can do with automation is make those decisions focused on more high-level things, and get rid of the lower-level stick-and-rudder [demands].”
Dietrich declined to specify a timeline for vehicle development and certification, as his experience with Terrafugia has made him cautious about such predictions. With all of the regulatory unknowns surrounding certification, “it’s not just a question of technology; it’s not just a question of funding,” he told eVTOL.com. “What I can say with confidence is that we’re going to move forward as quickly and responsibly as we can.”