Drone-like VTOL capabilities with a long-range, high-speed turboshaft cruise mode: South Africa’s Pegasus Vertical Business Jet hopes to deliver the best of both worlds in a futuristic transitioning aircraft for high flyers.
The company sees convenience and utility in the touchdown-anywhere eVTOL model, but wants to offer helicopter and business jet owners a faster, longer range alternative than electric powertrains will be able to match for some time.
So, instead of dealing with the foibles of large, heavy, low-density battery packs, the VBJ will carry a pair of turboshaft engines and a maximum of 2,040 kg (4,500 lb) of fuel. If you take off and land via a runway, that fuel can take you up to 4,400 km (2,730 miles) with an endurance of around 6.6 hours. But if you route the power instead to the four vertical lift fans embedded in its fat wings to take off and land vertically, you’ll burn so much gas that you’ll get slightly less than half those figures.
The tradeoff for range is the ability to put the VBJ down on a rooftop heliport, or in the middle of nowhere, or on an oil rig, or a golf course or a superyacht. With cruise speeds up to 480 mph (772 km/h), it’ll run rings around helicopters and eVTOLs, with a quieter cabin in which six passengers and a pilot can hear themselves think.
Eight years into development, the Pegasus team has recently performed lift, land and hover tests with a small-scale prototype, but frankly this seems to be little more than a battery-powered drone with a body kit on it; the sort of thing a team of bright high schoolers could build, if we were to be cynical. The more interesting phase of development will be integrating those turboshafts and configuring the flight control system to handle the complex transitions between hover and cruise, and from cruise back down to hover speeds across a range of weather conditions.
Pegasus says the next step is a pair of quarter-scale prototypes, and CEO Robbie Irons told Aerospace Africa he’s hoping to have full-sized aircraft up and running within five years, with the engineering team feeling it was more of a six to eight year proposition.
Price? The sky’s the limit. Even regular business jets are only within reach of the top 0.01 percent, and this will cost much more. Pegasus says it’ll ship planes within 12 to 18 months of FAA certification, and therein lies the rub: certification of a new type of aircraft like this will be every bit as brutally expensive as the certification of a transitioning eVTOL. And electric aircraft will have the considerable advantage of multiple battery systems and redundant motors, in order to meet the incredibly strict safety standards we’re starting to hear bandied about for eVTOL certification.
So certification will be a huge hurdle. That’s not to say it can’t be done, but you’d want to have a ton of orders on the books to justify that potentially billion-dollar process. We’re interested to see how far things evolve with the upcoming quarter-scale prototypes, but right now, with only a hovering plane-shaped quadcopter to show for eight years of development, it’s looking like a moon shot. Still, the dream is pretty cool, and you can check out the VBJ vision in the short video below.
Source: Pegasus Universal Aerospace