Karem Aircraft has announced a new spin-off venture dedicated to bringing its eVTOL air taxi, Butterfly, to market.
The new venture will be backed by a $25 million Series A investment led by the Korean industrial conglomerate Hanwha Systems, pending regulatory approval. Although a recent Korea Herald news report identified the venture as K4 Aeronautics, Karem Aircraft told eVTOL.com that this is an internal project name, and that the actual name of the spin-off will be released soon.
The new air taxi company founding team includes CEO Ben Tigner, chief commercial officer Ryan Doss, and renowned aircraft designer Abe Karem, a pioneer in VTOL technology whose past inventions include the original Predator drone and the A160 Hummingbird unmanned helicopter. Karem will serve as the chief designer for both Karem Aircraft and the new venture, splitting time between the two companies in Lake Forest, California.
The spin-off continues Karem Aircraft’s partnership with Uber, announced in 2018, for the development and deployment of eVTOL technology for aerial ridesharing.
“We are thrilled to announce both the investment deal with Hanwha Systems and our creation of a new company to aggressively pursue the air taxi opportunity,” Tigner stated in a press release, citing Hanwha’s “tremendous industrial capability and experience” and long-term commitment to shaping the eVTOL market.
“The new company will be able to focus exclusively on bringing Butterfly to market, leveraging Karem’s optimum speed rotor technology, Hanwha’s industrial scale, and Uber’s ridesharing network. We look forward to the day when riders will be able to commute to work by flying above the traffic in one of our vehicles,” he said.
The Butterfly design uses Karem’s optimum speed rotor technology to power a vectored thrust vehicle with four large rotors mounted on the wings and tail. According to its designers, Butterfly’s large, slow-turning rotors provide not only efficient lift, but also the quiet acoustics that will be key to operating in cities on the scale that Uber envisions.
“Karem’s technology for making safe, quiet, and efficient air taxi vehicles excites all of us,” stated Eric Allison, head of Uber Elevate. “Hanwha’s Series A investment in Karem’s new air taxi entity accelerates efforts to bring the Butterfly to market, and we look forward to flying riders in places like Dallas, Los Angeles, and Melbourne in the near future.”
While the new, stand-alone venture will be dedicated to Butterfly and its commercial air taxi applications, Karem Aircraft will continue to serve the needs of its military customers, including the U.S. Army, which earlier this year awarded Karem one of five Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft Competitive Prototype development contracts. On July 1, Karem announced that it was teaming with Northrop Grumman and Raytheon Company to execute the contract, intended to help the Army identify its next armed scout aircraft.
With the spin-off, Tigner said, “we are confident that each company is on a path for long-term success so that our technology can be applied in two distinct but important use cases.”