For those of you watching the VTOL aircraft space, Joby Aviation is a company to know.
I found out about Joby Aviation recently after reading about the NASA GL-10 fixed-wing transitioning VTOL scale model aircraft. Well, it turns out (I’m almost certain…), NASA got the idea from a guy named JoeBen Bivert and his cleverly named company – Joby Aviation.
If the internet has done me right (see http://www.popsci.com/article/technology/invention-awards-2014-personal-electric-airplane-wont-need-runway, http://www.jobyaviation.com/S2/, and http://gizmodo.com/the-prius-of-planes-could-one-day-replace-helicopters-a-1624998604 for a little more info), I believe the credit for this beauty of a VTOL design goes to JoeBen Bevirt. His “Joby S2” has gained a lot of attention – and some funding from NASA to take his scale models to the next level (of scale model-hood, at least).
To summarize, the S2 uses distributed electric propulsion – via 12 independent electric motor-driven propellors. The motors pivot to a vertical orientation for the vertical takeoff and landing:
Then, they all transition (much like the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor) from vertical to horizontal for forward flight. Then, it appears that during cruise eight of the twelve motors turn off and fold their props:
This radical departure from conventional aircraft design makes use of the same technology that high-end commercially available quadcopters use for stability and thrust control. Okay, that is a massive oversimplification, but it is at least somewhat correct.
The limitations of such a design are the same old thorns-in-the-side of current electric propulsion – weight and battery storage. Though the technical paper on the Joby Aviation website claims that, even with current technology, this beast should be able to take 2 people about 20 miles at 200 miles per hour. Interesting to note that the technical paper also shows the S2 coming it at a sticker price of $200,000. Not bad. (but probably not realistic…)
You’ve got to walk before you run, as they say. Well, it looks like this Joby-NASA partnership isn’t waiting around. They’ve got a pretty decent sized (60 lbs, 10.5 ft. wing span) scale model flying around right now:
This beast is a 1:2 scale model of the next VTOL UAV-version of the Joby S2 they intend to build. Then, if all goes well, it is on to the full scale aircraft. I know the gap between scale models and full scale aircraft can be cavernous, but I really think this has the potential to make the leap. Think about it – the technology isn’t that absurd, the weights of electric motors, batteries, and the composites should scale more or less linearly, and it appears that both NASA and Joby Aviation have put some serious brainpower (and hopefully funding) into this effort. I think this is a winning horse.
Joby Aviation isn’t a household name just yet, but this is definitely one to watch. For those of you who are interested in Joby’s other non-VTOL projects, check out their website – their non-VTOL projects are pretty awesome as well.