The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

Manta Makes First Flight with ANN2 Hybrid VTOL/STOL Model

Manta Aircraft last week achieved a first flight with a one-third scale model of its planned ANN2 hybrid-electric aircraft. The Swiss-based start-up is developing the two-seat fixed-wing aircraft, as well as the four-seat ANN4, and a high-performance drone based on the same design.

The aircraft are intended to operate in either VTOL or STOL mode, potentially offering a range of  between 300 and 900 km (186 to 559 miles) and a cruise speed of 300 km/h (186 mph). Plans call for the propulsion system to transition to all-electric or hydrogen power as the technology behind these options advances.

The Italian company is in the early stages of developing a pair of light hybrid-electric aircraft that it describes as VTOL/STOL.  Plans call for the propulsion system to transition to all-electric or hydrogen power as the technology behind these options advances.

The ANN2 is intended for personal transportation, as well as roles such as law enforcement, disaster control, and emergency medical support. The ANN4 is aimed at commercial air taxi and other business aviation applications, as well as potentially for freight deliveries and various special missions roles.

On December 9, 2020, Manta made a short first flight with a one-third scaled model of the ANN2. It aims to start testing a full-scale prototype in 2022 and be ready for the pre-production phase by the end of 2023, with a view to achieving type certification and service entry in 2025.

A short vertical hover was achieved on December 9 at a private airfield near Milan in northern Italy, with the model having to be attached to 10-foot tethers to prevent it from landing in wet snow that had fallen around its landing pad.

The company, which was formed in June 2019 by a group of European entrepreneurs, is seeking further investment to support the program. It said that after making some minor changes to flight control software, flight tests will resume with the model.

Early drawings of the all-composite aircraft show a V-shaped tail, a main fixed-wing, and a forward canard. A hybrid propulsion system consists of an unspecified engine with electric motors driving eight ducted fans, four of which are installed in the wing, with four more in the fuselage.

According to a company spokesman, the ANN2 model made several takeoffs and landings with recorded telemetry data showing “good control behavior” consistent with projected performance for the design. The project was subsequently announced at a public presentation in Milan on December 11.

Manta’s founders have extensive experience in the automotive and yacht-building businesses, with CEO and CTO Lucas Marchesini also having worked with Pilatus Aircraft, which builds the popular PC-12 and PC-24 business aircraft. The company, which also has a subsidiary in Italy,  intends to employ rapid prototype development techniques used in the world of Formula 1 car racing. It is being advised by Giuseppe Orsi, the former chairman and CEO of Italy’s Leonardo aerospace group.

Orsi, who formerly led Leonardo Helicopters (when it was called AgustaWestland) at the time it was developing the “Zero” electric rotorcraft concept, told the presentation on December 11 that the aviation industry has generally been less effective than the automotive sector in adopting new technology such as electric motors, batteries, new materials, automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence. He argued for more cross-fertilization between the two industries.

“Innovations that penetrated through racing car divisions are now deeply embedded in the ‘lymphatic system’ of the major carmakers,” he said. “Thus, in modern cars, you find sensors and computers conceived in aerospace, at a cost that is a fraction of the original ones, and car manufacturing now employs many tools and working methods typical of aerospace, such as simulators, wind tunnels, and crash tests.”

Manta is partnering with Ycom, a specialist in advanced composite materials developed for the motorsports business. The company is making fuselages and wings for the ANN test models.

Marchesini told FutureFlight that Manta has opted for hybrid-electric propulsion and dual VTOL/STOL operations in order to maximize performance using available technology and overcome the limitations of current battery technology for all-electric designs. In his view, operating fleets of around 100 all-electric eVTOL aircraft over the course of an 18-hour day–as is envisaged by some urban air mobility startups–would require extensive battery swapping with more than 4,000 recharges of battery packs needed each day. He based this on an assumption that without battery swapping, each aircraft would only be able to fly for three hours each day, based on a battery recharge time of 90 minutes. 

By allowing for short-takeoff and landing operations from a 650-foot runway, Manta says it can increase the maximum takeoff weight for the aircraft from around 1,650 pounds to 2,200 pounds. This approach allows the company to plan on storing around 300 liters of fuel in each wing, with the aircraft expected to burn around 60 liters per flight hour and delivering longer range in the process.

According to Marchesini, the aircraft could also be used for applications such as emergency medical support. He said that it could replace helicopters for some missions, with the promise of much lower operating costs of around $200 to $300 per flight hour. Manta also has plans for a four-seater model or a two-seater with a larger cargo bay.

Manta believes the ANN aircraft will mainly be used for flights between cities or within regions for more rural trips, taking off from a runway and then landing vertically if required. The company says the as-yet-unspecified engines will run on diesel, Jet-A, or bio-diesel fuel.

Flight control systems for the fly-by-wire aircraft are being developed by the Manta team, which is already working on software and control laws. It is filing European patent applications for the planned 16-channel control system.

Manta is open to discussions with prospective partners for the production phase of the program. In the meantime, it is seeking to raise the financing needed to increase the size of its team to around 50 or 60 people by the end of 2021.

The company expects to certify the aircraft under the new Special Condition rules being developed for new VTOL aircraft by the European Aviation Safety Agency.