Pegasus Universal Aerospace’s vertical take-off and landing business jet (VBJ) will make its first public outing this month at the European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition (EBACE) in Geneva, where the South African start-up will debut a one-eighth-scale model of the all-composite aircraft and open the orderbook for the eight-passenger type.
The milestone will come seven years after Reza Mia, founder and chairman of the Pretoria-based company, says he began exploring the possibility of building a light jet with the take-off and landing performance of a helicopter.
“Traditional business aircraft are capable of moving people through the air quickly, but a lot of time is wasted travelling on the ground to and from the airports, which are often located far away from busy financial and residential centres,” says Mia.
Eliminating this time-consuming ground travel often requires the use of a helicopter at each end of a trip, which can be expensive and inconvenient, he adds.
By combining these two features into one aircraft, the Pegasus VBJ introduces “a new era of point-to-point travel, with the capability to land in a built-up area, helipad, yacht and on any surface, including grass or gravel”.
The VBJ has a cranked dihedral wing and an x-tail design. It uses two GE Aviation CT7-8 turboshaft engines to drive in-wing lift fans and rear thrust fans through integrated gearboxes, all managed by multiple redundant computer systems.
Its landing gear layout is still to be finalised, with tricycle and tandem with outrigger layouts being considered, says Mia.
Weighing just under 5,700kg (12,600lb), the VBJ can be used for single-pilot operations.
A range of markets are being targeted, including air ambulance, charter, corporate, offshore, owner-flyer, police and surveillance. Geographically the largest regions for the VBJ are Europe, North America, the Middle East and what Mia describes as the “fast-developing countries in Asia”.
Pegasus plans to announce at EBACE its choice of supplier for the VBJ’s avionics suite and automated control systems. The latter feature, Mia says, will make aircraft “safe, reliable and very easy to fly”.
“We will start taking orders for the VBJ at the show,” says Mia. He expects the aircraft to be “well received”, as “there is simply nothing else like it on the market”.
A one-eighth-scale model has undergone testing in Pretoria to demonstrate the aircraft’s flying capabilities – including its transition from horizontal to vertical flight – and Pegasus will soon begin assembling a first full-scale prototype, with an aim to start flight testing in mid-2020.
“We are now building a cabin mock-up of the VBJ which will be shipped to London later in 2019 to begin a demonstration tour within Europe,” says Mia. The tour is also intended to drum up sales of the aircraft, and to raise interest in the programme from potential investors.
To date the project has been funded by Mia, but he forecasts up to $400 million will be needed to bring the aircraft to market. Pegasus is aiming for certification and service entry between 2024 and 2026.
The VBJ is projected to have a range of around 2,380nm (4,400km) from a standard runway take-off, or 1,150nm when using vertical take-off and landing mode. Cruise speed is expected to be 430kt (800km/h).