The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

Slovenian light aircraft manufacturer Pipistrel launched its 801 eVTOL aircraft program in June 2019. Pipistrel has been selected by Uber as one of six prospective partners for its planned Uber Air ride-sharing program. In addition to air taxi service, Pipistrel sees the aircraft as being used for applications such as emergency medical services and cargo transportation (see below)

According to the company, the 801 will be certified and ready to enter service in 2025. In August 2019, it said that the full-scale prototype will be ready to fly "within the coming year."

The design is built around eight lift fans built into the aircraft's high wing for vertical flight and a single rear-facing propeller mounted in the tail to drive the cruise phase of flight. Power comes from four battery packs (manufactured by Pipistrel itself). Pipistrel is promising a low noise footprint for the aircraft from specially designed fan blades and by ensuring that each of the eight lift fans operates at a different frequency.

Honeywell has signed as a key program partner. The U.S. company will be providing digital fly-by-wire flight controls to support autonomous operations, as well as cockpit displays, navigations systems, and its IntuVue RDR 84K phased-array radar, with detect-and-avoid capability, landing zone detection, and a radar altimeter.

At the TexasUP summit meeting on November 20-21, 2019, Pipistrel reportedly indicated that it is switching research and development priorities to a new cargo-carrying, unmanned eVTOL aircraft. According to reports in EVTOL.com, the unnamed model would initially be hybrid-electric powered with four rotors on either side of the fuselage and a single pusher propeller at the rear. Very few details were released, but, according to EVTOL.com, the aircraft will offer a payload of 660 pounds (300 kg) and range of up to 186 miles (300 km). This report stated that a first flight with a prototype is anticipated by the end of 2020, with first deliveries to a prospective customer in southeast Asia projected during 2022. Pipistrel also has reportedly partnered with Dutch company Wings for Aid to develop self-landing boxes that will carry humanitarian aid. What also remains unclear is the extent to which the decision to prioritise the cargo eVTOL aircraft may impact projected timelines for the passenger-carrying 801 model. On November 27, Pipistrel declined to confirm or deny whether reports about its presentation at the private TexasUP briefing were correct. The company has previously mentioned the possibility of a cargo drone in other presentations.

In May 2020, the company confirmed that it will work at a slower pace on the Pipistrel 801 eVTOL. Instead it has prioritized development work for a new family of cargo UAVs and also for a 19-seat regional airliner that is expected to be powered by hydrogen. On September 1, it unveiled the Nuuva family of cargo UAVs, consisting of a larger, long-range V300 model and the smaller V20 for last-mile courier services.

Timeline

Projected

type certification granted

Pipistrel 801 type certification achieved.
Projected

first delivery

Pipistrel says it will deliver first examples of its unmanned, cargo-carrying eVTOL by the end of 2025. The first customer is expected to be in southeast Asia.

Projected

test flight

First flight of Pipistrel cargo-carrying eVOL aircraft

Outlook

Our objective assessment of this program’s probable success.

FutureFlight assesses the probability of success for a new aircraft program by considering the following criteria:

  • Total investment funds available in proportion to the anticipated cost of getting an aircraft certified and in service
  • A company’s in-house capability (in terms of numbers of engineers, technical staff, and customer support teams)
  • The past experience of the company and its senior leadership in developing aircraft
  • The caliber and past experience of key program partners
  • Whether key aircraft systems have been selected and are available for use
  • Whether the preliminary design review has been completed
  • Whether the design for the full-scale prototype has been completed
  • Whether the type certification process has been formally initiated with an appropriate regulator
  • Whether the company has achieved a first flight with a full-scale prototype
  • The number of hours logged in a flight test program
  • Whether type certification has been achieved
  • The number of orders and commitment received for the aircraft
  • Whether the company has adequate facilities to begin series production of the aircraft
Our Methodology

Pipistrel is a relatively small family-owned company, but it has a strong track record in light aircraft innovation and has pioneered the use of electrical power. It appears to be the only eVTOL contender that has in-house battery design and manufacturing capability. The involvement of Honeywell lends further credibility to this innovative program.

However, by the summer of 2020, its priorities appeared to have shifted to developing a family of cargo-carrying UAVs and a fixed-wing regional airliner. It remains to be seen at what pace Pipistrel will continue work on the passenger-carrying 801 model.

801 eVTOL Models

Pipistrel 801 Specifications

Optionally-piloted vtol Lift + Cruise

Performance

  • Passenger Capacity
    5
  • Range
    69 mi
  • Cruise Speed
    175 mph
  • Powerplant Type
    ducted fan
  • Power Source
    electric
  • Endurance
    n/a
  • Max Altitude
    n/a
  • Takeoff Distance
    n/a
  • Landing Distance
    n/a
  • Empty Weight
    n/a
  • MGTOW
    6,000 lb
  • Payload Weight
    n/a

Dimensions

  • Length
    40 ft
  • Width
    n/a
  • Height
    n/a
  • Wingspan
    45 ft

Pipistrel says that its new 801 eVTOL aircraft will feature a high degree of redundancy so that the aircraft can operate even if two of its eight lift fans are inoperable. There will also be redundancy with the four separate battery packs that the Slovenian company is designing and manufacturing in-house. When the aircraft transitions from vertical to cruise flight, doors close over the lift fans to improve the aerodynamic performance of the wings as the single rear-facing propeller in the tail drives horizontal flight.

The aircraft is being designed to allow for generous amounts of baggage for up to five passengers, including multiple suitcases and bulkier items such as golf clubs. Honeywell is providing fly-by-wire flight controls, navigation systems, cockpit displays, and radar.

Eight ducted lift fans in the aircraft's high wing provide vertical lift. A single rear-facing propeller in the tail drives cruise flight. All power comes from four lithium-ion battery packs developed by Pipistrel itself. The company says that the batteries will be fully recharged within five to eight minutes.

Key Personnel

Ivo Boscarol
Ivo Boscarol

Founder, President

Tine Tomažic is director of research and development with Pipistrel.
Tine Tomažic

Director of research and development