Vertical Aerospace is to work with the University of Warwick on a so-called "smart charger" for its new VA-1X eVTOL aircraft. The project is supported by £2.3 million ($2.9 million) in government-backed funding from the UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI). In a September 24 announcement, the British start-up said the charger will boost performance and enhance safety for the four-seat aircraft, which is due to start commercial operations by the end of 2024.
The project, which is expected to be completed by October 2022, will involve applying the latest electrochemical concepts to develop a charger with diagnostic capability. The intention is that the supercharger will analyze inflight and charge event data to optimize battery life and the state of charge, as well as detect potential failures in advance.
The VA-1X, which will have lithium-ion batteries, is expected to enter service with a range of around 100 miles and speeds of up to 150 mph. A prototype of the fixed-wing design is expected to make its first flight during 2021.
A team from the UK university’s Warwick Manufacturing Group in Coventry will research the algorithms and models already established from previous academic research, as well as from existing battery use in automotive and ground storage applications. Vertical will produce a charger based on these findings and then test it on its prototype aircraft.
“Battery systems including charge and diagnostics testing are well-known in academia and industry, having undergone years of development and research for the automotive market,” said Limhi Somerville, Vertical’s head of energy storage. “An aerospace application provides a fantastic opportunity to utilize methods, designs, models, and algorithms that were not financially, volumetrically, or technically feasible before. Using these novel approaches, we plan to significantly improve the safety, range, and capability of our battery system.
ATI is committed to annually providing £300 million ($381 million) to support UK-based aerospace innovation. Under the auspices of the organization’s FlyZero program to encourage efforts to achieve zero carbon emissions in aviation, it is prioritizing funding applications in this area.
“We’re trying to bring the aerospace sector together at a difficult time when research and development spending is under pressure,” ATI corporate development officer Malcolm Scott told FutureFlight. “We’re trying to create a unity of purpose around zero emissions and establish a way to achieve market entry [for sustainable aviation technology].”
So far, Vertical Aerospace has confirmed the identity of two other key systems suppliers for its eVTOL program. These are Honeywell Aerospace, which is providing fly-by-wire flight controls and TE Connectivity, which is supplying electrical cabling and connectors.