Why This New 7-Passenger Hybrid VTOL Has Giant Fans Inside Its Wings

·3 min read

A string of mergers and acquisitions have defined the electric vertical takeoff and landing sector (eVTOL) over the last six months. In December, Joby acquired Uber Elevate, and then itself merged with Reinvent Technology Partners, giving it a combined value of $6.6 billion. California-based Archer also recently announced a merger with Atlas Crest Investment Corp. for a $3.8 billion valuation.

Yesterday, two other startups, XTI Aircraft and Xeriant Aerospace held a joint online press conference, announcing that they were merging to move forward on XTI’s TriFan 600, a $5.5 million aircraft that can carry up to seven passengers. The company says a full-scale version should be certified by 2024.

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“Several years ago, we looked at XTI,” Keith Duffy, CEO of Xeriant told Robb Report. “Since then, we’ve become much more involved. Part of the agreement is that Xeriant will invest $10 million in XTI. We believe this aircraft is ahead of anything in the eVTOL market.”

With its two big ducted fans on the wings and a third on the tail, the TriFan 600 looks much different than other VTOLs on the market. Its numbers are impressive: It has a top speed of 345 mph and range of 1,380 miles, with a 29,000-foot cruise altitude.

The aircraft has a hybrid propulsion system, so it doesn’t need to be charged and recharged between flights, like eVTOL competitors. The TriFan 600 already has 40 firm orders, and another 122 cash deposits. “We’re using conventional technology that won’t need a new set of regulations for certification,” said LaBelle, referring to the regulatory hurdles that eVTOL aircraft will have to pass through.

LaBelle sees the TriFan 600 as a “feeder” air taxi that will connect with longer-range aircraft, by dropping and collecting passengers at large commercial airports. But its speed and range could also make it a more efficient regional carrier. “This could connect a number of city pairs and operate independently,” he adds.

Duffy says that the TriFan 600 has much better stats than many of its competitors, especially eVTOLs with limited range. “Some of the others getting so much publicity don’t really have a viable business model,” he says.

There is certainly work ahead. The company currently has a third-scale model and is working on a full-scale, flying model as it moves towards certification.

LaBelle notes that its team, which includes Charlie Johnson, the former president of Cessna, chief engineer Dave Gambill, responsible for the development of the Leonardo Helicopters, and Dr. James Wang, chief technical advisor and former head of R&D at Leonardo, have collectively launched 35 aircraft. LaBelle himself was former chairman of AugustaWestland North America.

“This is scalable beyond just being a passenger aircraft,” adds Duffy. “It can be used for Medevac and potentially military applications. There is a great business case for it.”

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