Airborne: Reborn / Volume IV / July 29th 2020
In the last week we’ve seen the famous Farnborough Airshow ‘go virtual’ for the first time, as perhaps did the very notion of being ‘a pilot’ - see our Top Story below.
Simulated flying taxi prototypes took flight in Brazil, a Korean car company unveiled plans for vertiports in the UK and a tilt-wing eVTOL prototype was shown undergoing testing in Switzerland.
Meanwhile Airbus hinted at a hydrogen-fuelled future, Amazon Air ordered ‘green’ fuel for its cargo jets and Brazil moved a step closer to building their first electric aircraft thanks to some exotic British batteries and a familiar American airframe.
Aspiring astronautical narcissists rejoiced as Virgin Galactic revealed their spaceship interior will feature a giant mirror, the UK inched towards their first domestic space launch and a tiny Dutch spaceplane set its sights on taking off, in New Zealand!
TOP STORY: Flock Insurance certifies self-learning AI as a ‘pilot’
UK-based commercial drone insurance company Flock (£3.3m in funding), who launched a pioneering pay-as-you-fly insurance product for drone pilots in 2018, claimed to have achieved a world first this week - classifying a self-learning Artificial Intelligence as a “pilot”.
The insurance policy is automatically repriced as our customer’s AI gets smarter (therefore better at flying) over time.
The company are providing flexible insurance to Denmark’s Lorenz Technology who offer drone solutions to industrial ports and the security industry and have operations in Belgium, Denmark, Germany and the UK.
In what might come to be seen as a watershed moment for autonomous flight the policy pricing will vary according to data on weather conditions and population density at sites where the company’s drone fleet are operating. But crucially it will also take into account pilot experience - and the cover can class Lorenz’s AI-Link as a pilot. The more it flies, and learns, the lower the cost of insurance coverage will become.
Skyports laid out their views on the regulations and standards relating to vertiports. We published some thoughts on financing such infrastructure, including ideas on what the industry might learn from offshore wind projects (via Skyports / Osinto).
EmbraerX began simulated test flights of the company’s eVTOL lift-and-cruise aircraft in Brazil, using Embraer’s 5th generation fly-by-wire flight control technology. Their current iteration of the Human Machine Interface (HMI) involves dual side sticks and no pedals (via Aviation Week).
Hyundai’s Air Mobility division announced a partnership with Urban-Air Port Ltd in the UK that will see the companies collaborate on building what could be the country’s first full-scale vertiport. Expect to see it in Coventry next year. It’ll reportedly feature a modular, ‘flat-pack’ design (via small).
Germany’s Lilium gave some more detail on the routes and distances over which they foresee their Lilium Jet eVTOL operating. COO Remo Gerber, cementing the company’s ‘Regional Air Mobility’ ambitions, noted that they “…don’t plan to operate flights under 20km” (via Lilium).
Switzerland’s Dufour Aerospace revealed footage of their tilt-wing eVTOL demonstrator aircraft - developed in collaboration with ETH Zurich - that is reported to have undertaken some 550 test flights to date (via Dufour Aerospace).
US aircraft manufacturer Bye Aerospace received a ten aircraft order from UK-based Skyborne Airline Academy who will add six eFlyer 2 and four eFlyer 4 all-electric aircraft to their fleet at Gloucestershire Airport (via Get Into Flying).
Amazon Air signed a deal with Shell Aviation to secure up to 6 million gallons of ‘Sustainable Aviation Fuel’ (SAF) produced by World Energy. The blended biofuel that includes “feedstock of inedible agricultural waste fats and oil” is reported to reduce carbon emissions by up to 20% (via Renewable Energy Magazine).
Brazil’s first fully-electric commercial aircraft moved a step closer as Texas Aircraft Manufacturing announced a partnership with British Lithium-Sulphur battery company Oxis Energy to produce an electrified ‘eColt’ version of their popular light-sport aircraft. The batteries are reported to have a 400Wh/kg power density, giving the aircraft a 200NM range (via Transport Up / Oxis Energy).
Skyports announced a partnership with New Mexico based drone maintenance specialists Robotic Skies to develop a maintenance programme for drone delivery operations, and in future for the nascent Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) industry (via sUAS News).
Germany’s Airial Robotics unveiled their new fully-electric Gyrotrak UAV platform that’s “somewhere between helicopter and autogyro” according to CEO Jörg Schamuhn. The company’s GT20 aircraft is said to offer flight durations of up to 2.4 hours with an assumed 12.5kg useful payload capability (via PR Newswire).
Ghana’s Deputy Minister of Health revealed to parliament that California-headquartered Zipline had delivered some 79,800 medical products in the African nation to date. This included 47,100 ‘life-saving medical products’, 31,400 vaccines and since May 2020 over 2,500 COVID-19 samples (via Business Ghana).
A Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drone corridor will be established in the Midlands area of the UK to enable medical and other drone deliveries. The international consortium behind the project includes Coventry University, Altitude Angel and Skyfarer from the UK and autonomous system solutions provider FlyPulse from Sweden (via Altitude Angel).
Virgin Galactic unveiled the design of VSS Unity’s passenger cabin (which you can explore with this app on iOS / Android). The spacecraft accommodates six passengers and features 12 windows, 16 cameras and a large mirror so that space tourists can see themselves experiencing weightlessness (via Virgin Galactic).
Dawn Aerospace ($5.5m funding) from the Netherlands unveiled their ‘sameday reusable’ Dawn Mk-II Aurora suborbital spaceplane. The aircraft targets the CubeSat market, offering launches from conventional runways such as Oamaru Airport in New Zealand with whom the company signed an MOU in January (via TechCrunch).
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