Airflow is aiming to get its short takeoff and landing, fixed-wing design into production by 2025.
- December 2, 2020
A two-thirds scale model of the hybrid-electric TriFan 600 aircraft made a first flight in the first week of May 2019. This was 10 months later than had originally been projected in XTI Aircraft's timeline for the program. At the time, the company said it aims to achieve type certification by the end of 2023.
In June 2019, XTI claimed to have received 81 "pre-orders" from prospective operators in North America and Australia, with a combined value of around $500 million (implying a unit price of $6.5 million). This included an order from Australia-based Heliflite, with which XTI now has an exclusive partnership in Australasia, Oceania, and Indonesia. It also included an order from Brazil-based operator Icon Aviation
On July 23, 2019, XTI selected GE Aviation's Catalyst turboprop engine to power the TriFan 600. XTI Aircraft did not say when a full-scale prototype powered by this engine will be ready to join the flight test program, and the Catalyst is due to complete its own certification process in 2020. The aircraft uses XTI's patented ducted-fan technology, with one fan on each wing and another in the rear of the fuselage. The wing-mounted fans turn forward when the aircraft transitions from vertical to horizontal flight and at that stage the rear fan is covered.
In September 2019, XTI received a Japanese patent covering its TriFan 600 design. In the same month, it signed a draft joint venture agreement with an undisclosed company in Guizhou province, China, covering possible assembly and support for the aircraft.
On October 2, 2019, XTI announced that it has moved its 65 percent-scale proof-of-concept prototype to an approved test site in northern Utah, where the next phase of flight testing is due to begin. As of that date, the prototype had made 21 flights, testing controlled takeoffs, hover and landing. The company reported that it has fully installed, tested, and validated the aircraft's electric motors, battery system, ducts, propellers, flight controls, electrical systems, and instrumentation.
The TriFan 600 is mainly intended for longer-range flights of up to 1,400 miles. XTI believes it could fill several applications, including corporate transportation and emergency medical service.
On November 11, 2020, XTI announced a new partnership with propulsion specialist VerdeGo Aero, which will provide hybrid propulsion system combining a diesel engine, electric generator, and battery pack to power a new eVTOL model called the TriFan 200. This will be smaller than the TriFan 600 and intended for autonomous, cargo-carrying applications. XTI is using the 65 percent-scale proof-of concept prototype as the baseline design for the new model.
The company has not said when it aims to achieve type certification and service entry for the TriFan 200, or how work on this aircraft may impact the development timeline for the TriFan 600. As of March 2020, CEO Robert LaBelle indicated that subject to further investment being secured through an ongoing Series B funding round, his team aimed to have a full-scale TriFan 600 prototype ready to begin flight testing during 2021.
By November 2020, XTI was reporting an order backlog of 97 units for the TriFan 600, with customers understood to include Canadian operator Helijet. The company assessed the combined value of this backlog to be $630 million, suggesting a unit price for the aircraft of $6.5 million.
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Unusually for an eVTOL pioneer, XTI Aircraft has announced early orders for its TriFan 600 aircraft. It says that it now holds "orders" for 81 of the aircraft, which would seem to be an impressive degree of support for a new program at this early stage. However, it seems doubtful that these really are firm orders. It is unclear what deposits might have been made to support the "orders" or on what terms they have been placed.
What we do know is that XTI says it expects to have the aircraft certified by the end of 2023 and ready to enter service in 2024. The company will have its work cut out to achieve this goal. It managed a first flight with a two-thirds scale model in May 2019—10 months later than anticipated. In July 2019, it selected GE Aviation's Catalyst turboprop engine as the hub of its powerplant, but it has yet to say when it will be able to fly a full-scale prototype powered by this engine. Given the significant integration work required to add the new engine, this could be some time.
In an October 2019 interview with XTI CEO Robert LaBelle, he acknowledged that the pace of development work is driven by funding levels, implying that the company is still looking for further investment. Then on December 4, 2019, came news that the company is scrambling for more funding options with the announcement that it is extending its StartEngine crowdfunding campaign into the first quarter of 2020, when it expects to conclude its $25 million series B private placement round. In August, it had indicated that crowdfunding would be wrapped up by the end of 2019. It has been offering shares through StartEngine at $1.50 a piece and has switched to doing this under the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's Regulation Crowdfunding rules, rather than the Regulation A+ that it had been using. At the same time, the company said it is now looking at using one or more "Alternative Trading Systems" to access funding through secondary markets.
The November 2020 announcement of plans to develop a smaller TriFan 200 aircraft to be used for autonomous freight operations might suggest a shift in strategy to more quickly exploit the baseline TriFan technology since this design is based on the sub-scale prototype of the larger aircraft. XTI appears not to yet have sufficient funding to complete development of the larger model since funding efforts launched in 2019 have continued throughout 2020. In September 2020, the company appointed Sarita Jha as its new chief financial officer. Her extensive background in private equity, corporate finance and business development could provide a boost for XTI's efforts to fully-fund its program.
The TriFan 600 has received early orders for prospective operators in North America and Australia. Its range would allow the hybrid eVTOL aircraft to be flown on intra-city routes.
The aircraft is based on XTI Aircraft's ducted-fan technology, with power provided by GE Aviation's new Catalyst turboprop engine. In May 2019, the company achieved a first flight with a two-thirds scale model of the aircraft. It says it will achieve type certification before the end of 2023, although this target would seem to be contingent on the company having a full-scale prototype in flight testing before the end of 2021.