California-based startup Airflow announced its plans to develop a hybrid-electric powered, eSTOL aircraft in June 2020. It says the fixed-wing will only need a 300-foot runway that could be built alongside a warehouse to support so-called middle-mile services of between 50 and 300 miles.
The company believes it can get the unnamed aircraft certified under FAA Part 23 rules and into production by the end of 2025. When the program was launched, it had already flown a sub-scale model of an initial concept design. It has yet to finalize the configuration for the aircraft and expects to have full-scale prototype ready to fly by around mid-2023.
Airflow says that it intends to market cargo carrying services directly to logistics companies and will sub-contract flight operations to Part 135 operators. It plans to announce partnerships with logistics and real estate firms to develop landing sites.
In July 2020, the company said that it had begun flight testing a non-conforming sub-scale model. Initial work is focused on developing key control algorithms to achieve safe and repeatable short-field landings and takeoffs. By mid-November, the engineering team was evaluating a second version of its autopilot with a series of trial approaches and landings. At that point, it had completed around 220 flights
Co-founder and CEO Marc Ausman told FutureFlight that time has been spent on market validation, through talks with large logistics companies about requirements such as the size of the cargo bay, takeoff and landing performance, and the need for all-weather capability. He says that operating costs for the fixed-wing aircraft will be around one-third those of comparable eVTOL aircraft.
On December 1, 2020, Airflow announced the selection of VerdeGo Aero to provide its hybrid powertrain system to drive the Airflow aircraft. The Jet-A/battery pack hybrid propulsion system promises a 35% reduction in emissions over conventional turbine powertrains, and, according to Airflow, will allow the aircraft to deliver the 300 mile range required by its clients.
In late January 2020, Airflow announced plans to start using a reconfigured Cessna 210 light aircraft as a flying testbed for its planned short runway operations. It will replace the single piston engine with the hybrid powertrain to prepare the way for development of the full-scale prototype.
In June of 2021, the company announced a deal with Ravn Alaska which intends to operate 50 of Airflow's eSTOL aircraft, valuing its orders along with other unnamed operators at approximately $200 millions dollars.
In August 2021, Airflow stated that it had tripled the size of its order book for its eSTOL model and has letters of intent from 11 customers worth more than $600 million. In October 2021, hydrogen propulsion and fuel group Plug Power announced an investment in a hydrogen-powered version of Airflow's eSTOL.
In November 2021, Pipistrel partnered with Airflow to supply them with electric motors, controllers, and batteries for its eSTOL aircraft.
In June 2021, rival eSTOL aircraft developer Electra Aero announced it is acquiring Airflow and the companies will pool their resources to develop a family of products and applications. These could lead to subsequent hydrogen-powered aircraft.