Business aviation services group FlyExclusive is to be the first member of the customer advisory group that Textron’s eAviation division is establishing for its new Nexus eVTOL aircraft. The companies announced today that FlyExclusive, which operates private charter flights and a fractional ownership program, will provide Textron with input on the development of the hybrid-electric Nexus, including the perspectives of pilots and passengers.
For now, FlyExclusive has not indicated whether it intends to acquire the eVTOL vehicle. Its agreement with Textron eAviation is expected to cover joint marketing activities for trade shows, as well as collaborative efforts to develop advanced air mobility through engagement with regulatory authorities and work on public acceptance.
According to Textron eAviation president and CEO Rob Scholl, the U.S. aircraft manufacturer is provisionally aiming to bring the Nexus into service in 2030. He told AIN the timeline remains contingent on several factors, with scope for flexibility between 2028 and 2032.
"That's going to be driven by the continued development of several key technologies including battery technology," he explained. "But also the readiness of regulations and the ability to meet those and ultimately hit the economics targets that customers like FlyExclusive are going to need for their business."
Moves to establish a customer advisory group for the four-passenger Nexus have begun just over 12 months after Textron publicly confirmed it is actively working on the aircraft. A preliminary design was first unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2019, but Textron later suggested that work may have been suspended on the program, until the fall of 2021 when it was transferred from Textron's helicopter-making division Bell to the new Textron eAviation business unit, which was formed in March 2021.
In April 2022, the Wichita-based group’s capabilities in electric aviation were significantly boosted by the acquisition of Europe’s Pipistrel, which has already certified its Velis Electra electric light aircraft in Europe and has invested significant resources working on eVTOL and other electric- and hybrid-electric designs. Pipistrel is part of a wider Nexus team that also includes Textron subsidiaries Bell and Kautex, and all are contributing to design work for a full-scale prototype that is expected to fly at some point in the next couple of years.
At a press conference during the October 2022 NBAA-BACE trade show in Orlando, the company unveiled a design featuring a larger wing span that it said would have an increased range of up to around 100 nm and speeds of around 120 knots. The engineering team is targeting a maximum takeoff weight of around 8,000 pounds and full fly-by-wire controls for the tiltrotor design.
Earlier this year, the company started wind tunnel tests with a 23 percent scale model of the aircraft as part of a process it says will "calibrate our simulations and validate our design." The ongoing tests are focused on confirming the initial configuration, as well as range and speed estimates, and how its six rotors will interact with the vehicle aerodynamics in all phases of flight including VTOL, transition, and cruise.
"The tests also provide us with immediate information related to tail size, engine power requirements, transition strategies, hover net thrust and aerodynamic drag, clearing the path towards final requirements that meet certification standards," Scholl explained. "The data and insights gained from this wind tunnel testing will allow us to further refine our models to design a viable leading eVTOL aircraft."
Prospective eVTOL Operators Have Their Say
Textron also wants to get direct input from prospective operators as well, and this process is now starting with the formation of the customer advisory board. In particular, FlyExclusive is expected to provide Textron's engineering and design team with guidance on optimising both the cockpit and cabin.
“The Nexus eVTOL is being designed to offer customers sustainably powered mobility and flexibility in a variety of locations and missions,” Scholl commented. “Our collaboration with FlyExclusive demonstrates our strong focus on further developing the product and ensuring it delivers an exceptional customer experience. As we begin the building of our first eVTOL prototype aircraft, FlyExclusive’s input will be important as we finalize our aircraft design and as the technology and market evolve over the coming years.”
In June, FlyExclusive, which is based in North Carolina, announced new features for its Jet Club charter flight program and changes to its fractional ownership offering. The company, which also offers maintenance, repair, and overhaul services, has a fleet of more than 90 business aircraft, most of which it owns.
Last year, FlyExclusive moved to expand its fractional ownership program with orders for eight of Textron Aviation’s Citation XLS Gen2 midsized business jets and six of the super-midsized Longitude model. It already operates Cessna Citation CJ3+ aircraft and the new deliveries are expected in 2024 and 2025.
Based on an agreement to combine its business with special purpose acquisition company EG Acquisition, FlyExclusive is working on plans to raise fresh capital through an initial public offering. During an investors' day event in June, the company indicated that it expects to complete the IPO in August or September.
“This appointment [to the Nexus advisory board] reflects our unwavering commitment to innovation, sustainability, and furthering our long-standing partnership with Textron,” commented FlyExclusive president Tommy Sowers. “As one of the largest operators of Cessna Citations [with] decades of experience and deep respect for the talented individuals at Textron, we are eager to bring our unique perspective to the table and collaborate on designing the future of flight—all to provide superior service and experience for our customers.”
Textron has said that, in addition to passenger flights, it envisages the Nexus being deployed for services such as cargo transportation and emergency medical services.
This story was updated on August 21 to include details about the Nexus program timeline and some aspects of the aircraft design.