Samad Aerospace has achieved the first flight with a 50 percent scale model of its e-Starling all-electric aircraft. The UK-based company announced that the flight was made on November 17 at an undisclosed location and was a conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) operation from a runway.
Video footage of the flight shows it to have taken place in a desert location, which is clearly not Samad’s headquarters at Cranfield Airport in England. The company said that it now aims to begin vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) flight trials during 2021. It added that the flight test location is "confidential" and that it is situated in a "low-cost economy."
The half-scale technology demonstrator took off using 820 feet of runway, which the company says shows the e-Starling’s potential for short takeoff and landing operations, which would potentially offer greater range than VTOL mode. The first flight lasted five minutes, with the model achieving a speed of 90 mph, and several further flights have since been made.
The initial tests include evaluations of the aircraft’s flight dynamic and handling qualities. According to Samad, because the e-Starling features a semi-blended wing body design, it requires a low angle for takeoff, and the engineering team has focused on optimizing this specification and understanding the speed required for CTOL takeoffs. The model has also now demonstrated slow and fast taxiing, as well as performing banking maneuvers and yaw, pitch, and roll tests.
Samad’s engineering team has also tested several of the model’s subsystems, such as brakes, telemetry, and redundancy links, as well as verifying its center of gravity. The company claimed that its performance matched predicted calculations made during preliminary and detailed design stages. Data gathered will now be used to further develop the e-Starling’s autopilot system.
“CTOL trials are an essential step towards VTOL aircraft development,” commented Samad’s chief technical officer Norman Wijker. “Ticking off the CTOL flight capability is a crucial step towards the validation of all flight modes. With CTOL trials complete, we will begin hovering trials, and the flight trials will be concluded by transition between hovering flight and aerodynamic flight in both directions.”
Based on earlier timeline projections, it would appear that Samad might be ready to start VTOL flight trials with the half-scale model fairly early in 2021. The company has built two of the models, which it intends to use to finalize the design of the e-Starling, which will carry a pilot and up to five passengers. The company has already flown 10 and 20 percent scale models from its Cranfield headquarters.
According to Samad founder and CEO Seyed Mohseni, the full-scale prototype of the e-Starling is still expected to fly in 2023. However, he acknowledged that disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic had delayed the company’s work by around six months.
Mohseni told FutureFlight that he has signed memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with several prospective investors. Back in November 2019, he said that the company was seeking to raise around $20 million and that it expected to need almost $78 million to complete the development of the e-Starling.
In tandem with work on the e-Starling, Samad is also developing a two-seat aircraft now designated as the Q-Starling (formerly the Q22). This is a different design with separate sets of fans being used for lift and cruise modes.
Mohseni described the Q-Starling as “a luxury personal aircraft, like a Lamborghini.” He said it will be simpler to certify as it will be categorized purely for personal use. Samad is now negotiating a partnership with an undisclosed “medium-sized manufacturer” that will co-develop the smaller model.
For now, the privately owned company appears to have shelved plans to develop an all-electric two-seat flying car called HUMA. Mohseni said that he expects the longer-range intra-city market to takeoff faster than shorter-range urban air mobility eVTOL applications. That said, a longer-term plan to develop the larger Starling Jet regional airliner has also been deferred to allow Samad to concentrate its efforts on the e-Starling and Q-Starling models.
Meanwhile, Mohseni and his fellow investors are contemplating plans to move part of the company away from the UK. The video footage showing flight testing of the half-scale model in a location that was clearly not in the UK would suggest that the company has already partly relocated its development work.
In September, Samad announced plans to develop what it described as an “aviation innovation village” as a base for technology development and research for eVTOL aircraft. It said that facilities would include an airport, industrial assembly plant, and “an aerospace innovation hub.”
Samad indicated that it intends to build its own aircraft at this unspecified location, which is understood to be in Asia. Work is expected to start during the first quarter of 2021.
Wider plans call for the villages to be expanded in scope to accommodate activities such as pilot training, but also potentially features such as shopping malls, hospitals, schools, restaurants, housing, sports centers, movie theaters, and hotels. Samad envisages villages in multiple locations as diverse as Europe, China, India, Malaysia, Russia, South Africa, Brazil, Canada, and the Middle East.
In its September 18 announcement, Samad did not provide details as to how it intends to fund these ambitious plans. The company is seeking to raise a further £15 million ($20 million) to bring the e-Starling aircraft to the market.