Transformational flight prepares path to operations
By Kenneth H. Goodrich and Michael D. Patterson|December 2022
The Transformational Flight Integration Committee serves as a focal point for a community of practice engaged in technical, business and societal issues associated with transformational approaches to on-demand air mobility enabled by the convergence of advanced technologies.
With targeted service entry dates only a few years away, the advanced air mobility industry, regulators and the broader community ramped up their efforts this year to meet the ambitious timelines. Beyond certified aircraft, service entry requires regulatory paths for ground infrastructure and pilots. In support of the former, FAA released Draft Engineering Brief No. 105, Vertiport Design in February to help ensure ground infrastructure will be ready for novel electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft. Less than a month later, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency released its own design specifications for vertiports. FAA published the final vertiport design brief in September.
In March, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report on the February crash of a Joby Aviation S4-2 experimental eVTOL. The aircraft experienced a “component failure” during high-speed testing outside the design operating envelope and was “substantially damaged,” investigators said. As the remotely piloted prototype was unoccupied and operating over an uninhabited area, there were no injuries, and Joby resumed testing in March with a second prototype. The accident highlighted the developmental nature of these novel aircraft and resolve of the industry to aggressively move ahead.
In April, Textron — parent company of the Cessna, Beechcraft and Bell brands — completed its acquisition of Slovenia-based Pipistrel, a leader in electrically powered aircraft. Textron expects to enable Pipistrel to accelerate its development and certification of electric and hybrid-electric aircraft.
In a shift surprising to many, FAA in May signaled a decision to dramatically alter how it will certify eVTOL aircraft designs having wings for forward flight and powered lift for vertical takeoff and landing. Previously, several companies said they had agreements with FAA to certify their designs as Part 23 airplanes with special conditions for the vertical flight capabilities. FAA now says these aircraft will be type certified under a new category, powered-lift, using 14 CFR Part 21.17(b). Although the change is expected to have limited impact on the type certification process, it has significant ramifications for pilot licensing, airspace integration and approval of commercial operations.
Also in May, Beta Technologies of Vermont completed a flight from Plattsburgh, New York, to Bentonville, Arkansas, a distance of over 2,250 kilometers, with its Alia electric prototype aircraft. The demonstration involved seven intermediate stops over eight days and used both permanent and portable charging stations.
In May, NASA and Joby Aviation announced results from acoustic flight tests conducted with Joby’s prototype aircraft through the Advanced Air Mobility National Campaign in 2021. Extensive ground-based acoustic measurements were gathered via microphones during all phases of flight, and the data provides initial insight into the potential community impact of the aircraft. Results indicated that eVTOL aircraft have the potential to produce notably lower sound pressure levels than traditional helicopters in similar flight conditions.
In September and with broad bipartisan support, the U.S. Congress passed the Advanced Air Mobility Coordination and Leadership Act, which directs the U.S. Department of Transportation to establish an AAM interagency working group to plan and coordinate efforts related to the safety, infrastructure, physical security, cybersecurity and federal investment necessary to bolster the AAM ecosystem, particularly passenger-carrying aircraft, in the United States. President Joe Biden signed the bill into law in October.