Electra’s plans to bring its eSTOL aircraft to market have received a boost with the U.S. Air Force awarding it up to $85 million to develop a full-scale preproduction example of the hybrid-electric model. The Air Force’s Afwerx innovation unit announced the Strategic Funding Increase (STRATFI) on January 26, with the money to be made available through a mix of private investments, government grants, and matching Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funds.
The Virginia-based company says it is close to starting test flights with a two-seat blown-lift technology demonstrator. The production version of the as-yet-unnamed eSTOL aircraft is expected to carry up to nine passengers or 2,500 pounds of freight and to operate from runways of no more than 300 feet in length.
The STRATFI award is intended to provide an investment platform to support the rapid deployment, test, and evaluation of a full-scale eSTOL vehicle for possible military roles. The work will help the Air Force to validate its requirements and operational use cases.
Electra sees its eSTOL as offering the operational flexibility of eVTOL vehicles and helicopters, with superior payload and range. Its hybrid-electric powertrain means that it would be able to operate from locations not equipped with electric recharging facilities. The company says it has already received over 1,000 provisional orders for the aircraft, which will have a cruise speed of 175 knots and a range of around 500 miles.
The latest Afwerx award means that Electra is building on its existing involvement in the agency’s Agility Prime program to evaluate defense applications for new aircraft. The company is already working under six SBIR and Small Business Technology Transfer contracts for the Air Force.
“There is a significant gap in the Joint Force [requirements] to provide logistics and sustainment to widely dispersed units across the large contested geographical areas at the tactical edge,” said Ben Marchionna, Electra’s director of technology and business development. “Electra’s eSTOL is ideally suited to serve as a small highly fuel-efficient airliner that helps the U.S. Air Force execute its Agile Combat Employment doctrine and meet its operational energy goals to reduce aviation carbon emissions.”