A half-scale prototype of Samad Aerospace’s e-Starling VTOL aircraft is set to fly in the first quarter of 2020, the company has told eVTOL.com.
The e-Starling is aiming for a range of 400 miles (644 kilometers), a cruise speed of 300 mph (483 km/h) and a maximum capacity of seven occupants (a pilot and six passengers, though the company expects there normally to be five passengers). It will come to the market as a hybrid-electric aircraft, but the aspiration is for it to be fully electric when battery technology allows. It is designed for travel within and between cities, with the air ambulance and business markets its primary targets, Samad Aerospace CEO Dr. Seyed Mohseni told eVTOL.com.
“The idea is to create a product that can integrate into existing infrastructure, without the need for extra infrastructure to allow it to operate,” he said.
Samad Aerospace has focused on the preliminary design phase throughout 2019, building a number of small-scale prototypes to test various aspects and prepare the aircraft for certification. The company conducted a successful test using a 15% scale prototype earlier this year, Mohseni said, which focused on the flight control system and the transition from vertical take-off to horizontal flight. A 25% scale system will be ready this year, and will be used to test the propulsion system and assess the platform’s aerodynamics. The half-scale prototype will then be tested in the U.K. early next year, with a flight demonstration also planned for the Farnborough International Airshow in July 2020.
There are also plans to spin off a two-seater version of the half-scale prototype, with the plan to commercialize this aircraft by 2022, Mohseni added.
Samad Aerospace has identified a range of markets for the e-Starling, with the platform having greater speed and range than comparable helicopter types, Mohseni said. He expects to see demand among existing business travelers and other helicopter users, notably in the air ambulance space.
The company is also planning a larger version of the platform, the Starling Jet, which would be a hybrid-electric aircraft with a range of up to 1,500 miles (2,414 km) and capacity for up to 10 occupants (one pilot and nine passengers). The company plans to begin building prototypes of the jet for testing in 2024, when full production of the e-Starling is expected to be underway.
According to Mohseni, Samad Aerospace has so far received letters of intent for more than 200 aircraft, from customers in the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and North America. This is mainly for the e-Starling, though some cover the Starling Jet, he added.
Both aircraft have pilots, but can be fully autonomous when regulations and public opinion permit.
“The technology is there for fully autonomous flight, but the regulations and the market are not there yet,” he said. “It will take us some time to get there, but the technology that we could utilize is available.”