Military Embedded Systems

eVTOL advances could change battlefield logistics


April 18, 2022

​​​​​​Figure 1 | Artist rendering of Talyn Air eVTOL lifting vehicle separating from cruise vehicle. Talyn Air image.

Funding for electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft continues to increase as U.S. defense planners recognize that eVTOL platforms can be a game changer on the battlefield. eVTOL maker Talyn Air (Los Angeles, California) recently secured $1.7 million in government funding through an AFWERX AFVentures Tactical Funding Increase (TACFI) program in support of a two-year design/build/fly effort with the Air Force’s Agility Prime program.

This latest round of support enables Talyn to advance certification efforts with the Department of Defense (DoD) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), build full-scale aircraft, and continue in its quest to “revolutionize battlefield logistics.” The eVTOL technology is intended to enable aircraft to launch from virtually anywhere, without runways or other major downrange requirements.

Employing a dual-stage “system of systems” approach, Talyn engineers have separated the aircraft into a VTOL lift vehicle and a long-range fixed-wing cruise vehicle. This design bypasses the physics-based trade-offs that arise when forcing all the systems onto a single vehicle.

The joined system takes off vertically, then transitions to forward flight until both vehicles are under wing-borne lift. The lift vehicle then deploys the cruise vehicle and they gently separate. The cruise vehicle, with fully charged batteries, flies as an efficient winged aircraft to the destination where another lift aircraft performs a mid-air docking. The craft then executes a joined vertical landing. (Figure 1.)

For additional flexibility in the field, the cruise vehicle can also take off and land in a conventional manner. Talyn’s cruise vehicle can also accommodate a variety of sensors, communications, armaments, and computing payloads to serve broad mission sets, according to the company.

In December 2021, Talyn officials announced the company had attained a major milestone in its Phase II project: the successful demonstration – with a subscale prototype – of the system’s separation deployment while in flight. Talyn reported deployment of its lift vehicle with its cruise vehicle as well as vertical takeoff and landing. (Figure 1.)

“In the current force structure, a single strike on a strategic base would significantly impact the ability to project air power and slow the response to such attacks,” explains Talyn co-founder Jamie Gull, an engineer who helped develop the Falcon 9 rocket at SpaceX. “Talyn’s system gives the Air Force the capability to generate combat and support sorties from nearly any location, resulting in a more complex operating picture and an additional layer of unpredictability for near-peer adversaries to process. This will help create the foundational elements of a more flexible and effective force structure, while removing more airmen from harm's way.”

With its latest TACFI award, Talyn will now be able to build and fly full-scale prototypes, which are expected to have a maximum takeoff weight of about 1,500 pounds and be able to carry payloads of between 100 to 500 pounds, depending on the configuration. The company also says that the dual-vehicle configuration is capable of as much as triple the range of any other strictly battery eVTOL aircraft.

Talyn co-founder Evan Mucasey – an engineer who was part of the Falcon 9’s first hypersonic orbital reentry and was responsible for the design, testing, and certification for human space flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon – asserts that his company has near-term plans to provide commercial autonomous cargo delivery.

“We are excited to continue working with our partners at AFWERX to develop this critical flight capability,” Mucasey says. “TACFI enables us to take the lessons learned from our subscale vehicle development program and apply them to our new, commercial-scale aircraft. We will be able to use these prototype vehicles for flight testing as well as building a basis of success that we can leverage for future commercial and certification efforts.”

Commercially, the benefits of using the Talyn system for regional cargo and passenger operators includes both flexibility and time savings. Talyn combines the door-to-door capabilities of helicopters with the point-to-point speed and range of fixed-wing aircraft.

As part of its military/TACFI drive, the company must receive at least a dollar of private funding for every dollar in program funding. The company intends to raise as much as $40 million in additional private funding later in 2022, while it works on achieving significant technology and certification milestones.

Next up, the team will continue its work with the Air Force in order to move closer towards validating its aircraft for military and commercial solutions. Flight testing will be coordinated with the DoD and FAA, both of which will assess the operations and vehicle-certification criteria necessary for accelerated deployment.

Dawn M.K. Zoldi (Colonel, USAF, Retired) is the CEO of P3 Tech Consulting LLC.

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