Airborne: Reborn IX

Volume IX - September 2nd 2020

Airborne: Reborn / Volume IX / September 2nd 2020

In Volume IX of Airborne: Reborn we’ve got flying cars, venture capital and a Lunar Cruiser from Japan, a tandem-rotor drone from Canada, medical air bridge funding in the UK, more electric flight firsts from intrepid Swiss, an Austrian UAV on Norway’s biggest gas platform, a new Slovenian drone big enough to swallow three pallets of cargo and rocket launches making a quick (and welcome) return to New Zealand’s Māhia peninsula.

From China - an autonomous helicopter, a new satellite factory and news of a project to convert a twin-engined regional airliner to run on hydrogen fuel cells.

From the US - a rocket launch (and landing), delivery drone tests, computer vision to avoid collisions, a hyper-efficient V-12 powered ‘flying cigar’ and…news of a project to convert a twin-engined regional airliner to run on…hydrogen fuel cells!


TOP STORY: Japan’s SkyDrive debut electric ‘flying car’, announce ¥3.9bn / $37m USD in Series B funding

Japan’s SkyDrive showed their SD-03 ‘flying car’ conducting its first manned public flight - watch the flight here - and announced ¥3.9 billion / $37m USD in Series B funding.

Founded in 2018, the company grew out of a voluntary group dubbed ‘Cartivator’ who were working on the project as early as 2012 and garnered the support of Toyota back in 2017. The SD-03 aircraft itself is a stepping stone towards a larger, two-person SD-XX concept vehicle.

The company is also working on drone delivery and was testing a multicopter with 30kg payloads in Toyota City back in December (video here) with a 50-80kg payload considered easily achievable (Press Release).

Seed funded by Drone Fund to the tune of ¥300m / $2.8m in 2018 the company worked on SD-01 & SD-02 prototypes, test flew a cargo drone and raised a Series A round of ¥1.5bn / $14m USD in 2019.

In April of this year the company hired a new CTO - Nobuo Kishi - who was previously Chief Engineer on the Mitsubishi Regional Jet programme. He joined CEO Tomohiro Fukuzawa (formerly of Toyota) in the leadership team.

The just announced Series B takes total funds raised to date to ¥5.7bn / $54m USD and brings some notable new industrial and financial heavyweights to the cap table. Z Corp Japan (a Softbank subsidiary) followed on from their Series A investment and were joined by Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group (major aircraft leasing subsidiaries), NEC (aircraft control and radio comms.), Obayashi Corporation (interest in cargo delivery to construction sites), Veriserve (software quality verification), ENEOS (infrastructure and charging) and Development Bank of Japan.

Japan’s aerospace industry is proving popular this summer - it was announced on 14/08 that the Airbus Ventures III fund had received investment from Mitsubishi UFJ Lease & Finance Company, Fuyo General Lease Co and Development Bank of Japan. Airbus Ventures will now open an office in Tokyo.

SkyDrive aim to launch their flying car in the Japanese market by 2023.


The City Airbus demonstrator was moved to Manching for further flight testing (via Airbus Helicopters).

McKinsey published a paper on vertiport infrastructure which included curious double-decker ‘vertihubs’, which we’ve neither seen before nor fancy trying to land in… (via McKinsey).


Otto Aviation unveiled their fixed-wing, pusher-prop Celera 500L aircraft, claiming 4,500nm of range, a 460+ mph cruise speed & incredibly low $328/hr operating costs. They aim for FAA certification by 2023 and are raising Series B funding now. Initially powered by a V12 piston-engine, hybrid & electric power plants are planned - as well as civilian and military variants in both piloted and uncrewed configurations (via Tyler Rogoway / The Drive).

LA-based Universal Hydrogen launched with a kevlar-coated hydrogen fuel cell concept for regional airliners. They aim to prove the concept by converting a Dash-8 & ATR 42. Seeded with $3m they forecast they’ll need $300m more (via Bloomberg).

A small team aimed to break 7 world records by flying a Pipistrel Velis Electro 700km / 435 miles from Zurich, over the Alps, to an island in the North Sea (via electrek).

AVIC - the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China who employ over 450,000 people in 100+ subsidiaries w/ 2019 revenues of $65.5 billion - and Liaoning General Aviation Academy will collaborate on an electrified version of AVIC’s Y12 twin turbine STOL aircraft (a Twin Otter competitor). It’s understood they’ll aim to replace the PT6 turbines with hydrogen fuel cells and electric motors (via Xin Gou).


Pipistrel unveiled their Nuuva series of autonomous VTOL cargo drones. The 13.2m wide V300 can carry up to 460kg cargo / three Euro-pallets and uses 8 x E-811 type-certified electric engines. A small combustion engine powers the aircraft in cruise flight - entry into service is expected H2 2023. The smaller V20 has a 6m wingspan, 20kg payload capacity and is expected to be flying in 2021 (via Pipistrel).

A UK consortia led by DronePrep has been awarded £200k GBP by the UK govt to extend Covid-19 drone delivery trials to the Isles of Scilly (via DronePrep).

Operators Nordic Unmanned used a Schiebel Group Campcopter S-100 rotary UAV to complete an 80km flight to Equinor’s Troll A offshore gas platform in the North Sea west of Norway. The aircraft delivered a 3D printed lifeboat part. Watch video of the flight here (via Schiebel Group).

Amazon did not in fact have a Part 135 air carrier operating certificate granted by the FAA for their Prime Air drone delivery operation, as was widely implied. They did however receive this exemption from the FAA that enabled them to continue testing cargo deliveries with their MK-27 UAS (subject to a series of conditions). The aircraft which has a 5lb internal payload capacity and 15nm roundtrip range is not yet type certified. Amazon’s application to the FAA from 2019 is an insightful read.


RocketLab returned to flight, putting Capella Space’s Synthetic Aperture Radar satellite Sequoia into orbit from New Zealand, and were granted a Launch Operator licence by the FAA, moving a step closer to a first launch from US soil (via RocketLab).

JAXA and Toyota named their pressurised rover the ‘Lunar Cruiser’ (via Toyota).

SpaceX launched the SAOCOM 1B, PlanetiQ’s GNOMES-1 and Tyvak-0172 satellites aboard a Falcon 9 - the booster’s fourth launch, and landing (via SpaceX).

China’s Commsat announced that construction had begun on a satellite factory in Hebei Province with annual capacity of 100 x 100kg satellites (via Xinhua.net).


Canada’s Avidrone Aerospace will now offer US company Iris Automation’s Casia - a turnkey computer vision detect-and-avoid system - for use on BVLOS cargo delivery operations with all of its drone platforms, including the company’s novel tandem-rotor 210TL UAV which can carry a 25kg payload up to 120km (via Vertical Magazine).

Beijing General Aviation Co completed a 60-minute, open water test flight of a JH5 light helicopter with 100kg of cargo, converted for unmanned flight (via chineseflyer).


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