The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

On July 16, 2019, Karem Aircraft was granted a patent covering technology it intends to use in the development of the Butterfly eVTOL aircraft. The design will be based on the patented Optimum Speed Rotor technology previously developed by company founder Abe Karem.

Also on July 16, 2019, Karem announced that it has raised $25 million through a Series A funding round. The main backer for this was South Korean industrial group Hanwha Systems. The funding was approved on December 8, 2019, by the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. It will be used to launch a new spin-off company called Overair (earlier referred to as K4 Aeronautics) that will bring the Butterfly to market and establish an air-taxi operation in support of Karem’s partnership with Uber Air. In the future, Karem Aircraft will mainly focus on its activities in the defense market.

In January 2020, Karem Aircraft formed Overair, Inc. as a spin-off venture to lead the development of the Butterfly under the leadership of president and CEO Ben Tigner. This was one of 10 eVTOL aircraft programs selected as a partner in the Uber Elevate air taxi program, but this alliance broke up in late 2020 when Elevate was acquired by Joby Aircraft. Overair had been working to a goal of getting the Butterfly certified and in service by 2023, and the company is reportedly one of several eVTOL pioneers actively working with the FAA on a path to type certification.

In August 2021, Overair emerged from more than two years of largely working in stealth mode to reveal the design for the Butterfly eVTOL aircraft. It told a press briefing that it is on track to complete FAA Part 23 type certification by the end of 2025 and to be ready to start commercial operations in 2026, with CEO Ben Tigner explaining that it aims to start flying a prototype in Southern California during 2022, mainly to finalize the all-electric model’s propulsion system. By 2023, it expects to be flying a conforming prototype.

Using the Optimum Speed Rotor system, the aircraft's four large tilting propellers spin slowly in hover and even slower during cruise flight, which Overair says results in reduced power consumption that boosts payload, as well as safety margins for operating in challenging environmental conditions. The high aspect ratio wings have full-span flaps to support low stall speeds.

The large blade area of the propellers, combined with their slow rotation speed and low disk loading, will minimize pressure disturbance, which is also expected to deliver low noise by comparison with both helicopters and other eVTOL designs. According to the company, the noise level at hover (measured at a distance of 100 meters) is estimated at 55 dBA, while at cruise (measured at 500 meters) should be around 30 dBA.

According to Overair, the Butterfly will be able to carry five passengers plus an unspecified amount of cargo on trips of over 100 miles. It is expected to have a top speed of 200 mph and be able to operate in IFR conditions.

The company says it is yielding dividends from more than $150 million investment in supporting technologies through various U.S. Department of Defense and NASA programs. Overair says it will seek further investments to complete the type certification process. It is now operating from a new headquarters facility in Santa Ana, California. This includes a large manufacturing area, a machine shop, a composites shop, and an avionics department. 

Timeline

type certification granted

Type certification of Butterfly eVTOL aircraft

first delivery

Entry into service of Butterfly eVTOL aircraft

test flight

First flight of fully production conforming Butterfly prototype aircraft.

test flight

First flight of initial Butterfly prototype 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

The strong track record in advanced unmanned aircraft development of Karem Aircraft founder Abe Karem provides foundational credibility for the company's plans in the eVTOL market. The 82-year-old engineer was instrumental in creating prominent military drones such as the General Atomics Predator. In January 2020, Overair Inc was formed as a spin-off venture to lead the commercialization of the Butterfly program under the leadership of CEO Ben Tigner.

The $25 million raised in a Series A funding round completed in July 2019 provided fresh resources for the program, which now has the support of South Korean industrial group Hanwha Systems.

The credibility of the program was boosted when Overair finally revealed a design for the Butterfly during a media briefing in August 2021. The company's leadership team published a timeline calling for type certification by the end of 2025, which is around two years later than earlier projected when Overair was an Uber Elevate partner. Overair seems to enjoy solid support from its main investor so far, but has indicated it intends to raise further funds for the program.

Butterfly Models

Butterfly Specifications

local vtol Lift + Cruise

Performance

  • Passenger Capacity
    4
  • Range
    n/a
  • Cruise Speed
    200 mph
  • Powerplant Type
    multi rotor
  • Power Source
    electric
  • Endurance
    n/a
  • Max Altitude
    n/a
  • Takeoff Distance
    n/a
  • Landing Distance
    n/a
  • Empty Weight
    n/a
  • MGTOW
    n/a
  • Payload Weight
    n/a

Dimensions

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

As of July 2019, Karem Aircraft had provided almost no details about its design for the Butterfly air taxi. The Butterfly design uses Karem’s patented Optimum Speed Rotor technology to drive a vectored thrust powerplant with four large tilting rotors mounted on the wings and tail. According to the company, this will overcome the acknowledged eVTOL tradeoff between hover and cruise flight efficiency. Without providing any projected specifications or performance figures, it claims that the large, slow-turning rotors will provide both efficient lift and low noise levels needed to meet requirements for operating in urban areas. Since late 2019, the aircraft's development has been in the hands of Overair, Inc., which Karem established as a subsidiary to focus on the urban air mobility sector. 

Investors

Total Amount Invested: $25m

Key Personnel

Ben Tigner is co-founder and CEO of Overair.
Ben Tigner

Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Founder