USAF Bets $85 Million on the Electra eSTOL Prototype

Electra was awarded $85 million from USAF to build its eSTOL prototype 8 photos
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Electra says that it’s building the most efficient eSTOL (electric short take-off and landing) and it has more than 1,000 customer orders from around the world, to back that up. In addition to that, it’s been working with the U.S. Air Force (USAF) for quite a while now, on maturing the key elements of this innovative technology. A new award granted through USAF’s AFWERX Program will help move this technology to the pre-production stage for a full-scale prototype.
eSTOLs are seen as a new class of aircraft that are similar to helicopters in terms of operational flexibility, and better than fixed-wing aircraft in terms of both performance and costs.

One of their main advantages is the ability to operate from remote landing strips, which means that they can reach areas that would be challenging for conventional aircraft. Unlike eVTOLs, they are fitted with hybrid-electric propulsion, which add the benefit of an extended range. Plus, in the future, conventional fuel could be replaced with SAF (sustainable aviation fuel) which would make them even greener.

All of these features made the Electra eSTOL particularly attractive for military cargo applications. This small but rugged aircraft could deliver essential supplies and other cargo to various military units that are far apart, even in so-called contested environments. And it would be able to do that with fewer emissions, and with reduced costs.

It’s also important to note that the airplanes and helicopters that are currently carrying out similar tasks within USAF are insufficient for the demand, in addition to burning fossil fuel and having certain operational restrictions. In other words, these cargo fleets need to be renewed, and the armed forces are looking at new-generation alternatives.

It’s been a few years since both NASA and USAF first showed interest in this new type of aircraft. In the meantime, the manufacturer continued to develop the hybrid-electric powertrain, distributed electric propulsion, advanced flight controls, and the specific blown-lift aerodynamics.

At this point, it’s ready to build a full-scale prototype of the aircraft. Once that’s completed, Electra will kick off flight tests which it says will be a world-first. The two-seat piloted aircraft will demonstrate the eSTOL technology in trailblazing flight tests, in preparation for the next production phase.

As you can imagine, this costs a lot of money. Luckily, the eSTOL developer secured $85 million precisely for that, after receiving a STRATFI (Strategic Funding Increase) from USAF’s innovation arm, AFWERX. The sum includes government funding, private investments, and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding.

Although perfectly suited for military cargo operations, the future Electra eSTOL is also versatile enough for various commercial applications, where it brings the same main benefits of flexible operation, affordable maintenance, and increased range.
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About the author: Otilia Drăgan
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Otilia believes that if it’s eco, green, or groundbreaking, people should know about it (especially if it's got wheels or wings). Working in online media for over five years, she's gained a deeper perspective on how people everywhere can inspire each other.
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