Textron is formalizing its presence in the electric aircraft sector with the formation of a new division called eAviation. Senior executive Rob Scholl has been named to head the unit in a senior v-p role that reports directly to Textron chairman and CEO Scott Donnelly. Scholl previously was the senior v-p of sales and marketing at Textron Aviation.
Scholl’s new role was described by Textron as leveraging “the work across our aerospace and defense businesses to develop new opportunities and take advantage of our fixed-wing and rotorcraft expertise in emerging technologies.” He will be charged with assembling enterprise talent throughout Textron, building external partnerships, and creating a path for further development and utilization of aircraft electrification and connected mobility technologies in the global market.
In a call with stock analysts in January, Donnelly indicated that Textron intended to take a cautious approach to the advanced air mobility (AAM) market. “I do think we have to be cautious here in terms of not getting too far out front of a regulatory environment that's very uncertain to allow that business model to be successful,” he said.
But Textron's Bell helicopter division has already been working on both manned and unmanned electric aircraft for some time with both the Nexus eVTOL air taxi and Autonomous Pod Transport (APT) cargo carrier. Evidence that Textron intended to co-mingle expertise on these aircraft and other vertical lift programs emerged last year when Bell established an office on Textron Aviation’s Wichita campus.
Meanwhile, several startups in the AAM space already seeking to exploit the potential for reinventing existing aircraft from the Textron group's Cessna portfolio. Ampaire is using a Cessna 337 Skymaster as the basis for its Electric EEL technology demonstrator, installing its hybrid-electric propulsion system on the utility aircraft. MagniX is working on a supplemental type certificate to convert the Cessna 208 Grand Caravan to all-electric propulsion under the brand name eCaravan.
At the same time, both Xwing and Reliable Robotics are developing autonomous flight control systems that would allow the Caravan to be remotely piloted in commercial freight operations. In fact, Xwing has also support Bell on the APT program, providing its detect and avoid systems to support flight testing with NASA.
For now, the scope of Textron's ambitions remains unclear. Bell has been very quiet about how far it has progressed the Nexus eVTOL, though it has shed a bit more light on progress with flight testing of the APT70. Bell had been one of eight to ten eVTOL manufacturing partners for Uber's planned Elevate air taxi platform, but this was sold to rival eVTOL developer Joby Aviation in December 2020. The eAviation name for the new Textron unit might suggest that the primary focus will be on electric propulsion, whether this involves converting existing fixed-wing models or advancing new eVTOL designs.
Wichita-based Cessna also makes the Citation family of business jets and has a large portfolio of light general aviation aircraft.