Matt Chasen, Founder and CEO of LIFT Aircraft, provided an attention-getting projection in a recent webinar. Quoting a Morgan Stanley study, by 2040, the eVTOL market is expected to be valued at one trillion dollars. Of that, about $57 billion is expected to be in the military market.
LIFT is in the early phases of its long-term strategy, first to deliver its Hexa urban air mobility vehicle as a short-range, single-occupant aircraft and help solve urban traffic congestion conditions. Chasen explained, “We’re looking to help solve what is already a horrific situation that is getting worse by the day, which is the ground transportation issue in and around certain major urban areas. The problem has reached epidemic proportions. The average American spends more than 50 hours sitting in traffic each year.”
Enter Hexa, LIFT’s initial eVTOL, which was designed to get to market quickly by addressing and solving the attributes of ground congestion. The OEM has concluded about 85% of commuters take trips less than 18 miles (30 km) and 90% of commutes involve just the driver.
Hexa is an all-electric, vertical landing and takeoff aircraft, single-seat and optimized for hover. “We don’t have wings and we’re not a transitioning eVTOL, so that makes us more efficient in hover and with more redundancies and more safeties in that hover flight mode.” Indeed, Hexa’s key safety features and configuration include: triple-redundant flight control computer; seven floats; 18 independent motors, each with its own battery pack; and a ballistic parachute system.
Further, Hexa is semi-autonomous and has been cleared to fly under FAA Part 103 (ultralight) rules, with one significant outcome being the operator does not need a certificate, license or medical qualification. FAA Part 103 rules are synchronized with LIFT’s go-to-market strategy – of limiting early flights for sport, entertainment and recreation purposes. Theoretically, LIFT’s strategy permits it to open “multiple smallish airports and conduct flights between the vertiports. Another Part 103 limitation is you can fly over uncongested areas and outside of controlled airspace,” the CEO added.
Future certification for Hexa, or future versions of the aircraft, will support LIFT’s long-term strategy to open vertiports where flight routes will be over congested areas and in controlled airspace. As significant, Chasen emphasized LIFT’s strategy is “not to sell this aircraft to end users. We believe the best approach is to offer training and pay for flight operations in places where we can provide ground and flight control support. We’ll create vertiports.”
LIFT’s CEO also reiterated that eVTOLs are not the exclusive purview of the commercial aviation market, with interest in military and adjacent high-risk communities in these aircraft. Indeed, this November 16, US Air Force personnel initially “piloted” Hexa for a routine flight – with the airmen remotely controlling the aircraft during multiple takeoffs, flights and landings.
As a datum point in the quickly evolving defense advanced air mobility training enterprise, this team began with classroom and simulator training before getting behind the controls of the Hexa aircraft during the two-week familiarization.
Current Hexa flights require a two-person team, with one person controlling the movement of the aircraft, while the other monitors the aircraft systems, batteries, and other materiel.
Early tranches of US DoD eVTOLs are expected to support cargo and similar logistics operations. Chasen further elaborated on the Pentagon’s interest in eVTOL market, noting that of the $18 million in funding the company has raised to date, it has received more than $4 million in US Air Force R&D and test contracts.