Just one year after Textron publicly confirmed its intent to develop and certify the hybrid-electric Nexus eVTOL aircraft, the U.S. aircraft manufacturer has made a leadership change at its new eAviation business unit in a move that could signal a new approach to its advanced air mobility efforts. To date, the timeline for bringing the aircraft to market has been relatively open, with company indicating type certification could be possible anywhere between 2028 and 2032, with 2030 seen as the most probable date.
This week Textron unexpectedly announced that Rob Scholl, president and CEO of Textron eAviation, is leaving the segment to assume a new role as head of Textron Specialized Vehicles, an industrial business unit that manufactures golf cars, snowmobiles, and other utility vehicles. The Wichita-based group has named long-time company executive Kriya Shortt to succeed Scholl as head of the eAviation division, effective August 31.
Shortt, who is currently Textron Aviation’s senior v-p of global parts and distribution, has spent 27 years with the business aircraft group, and also holds leadership roles in its sales, marketing, and customer service departments. She has recently served as president of Textron’s Able Aerospace Services and McCauley Propeller Systems divisions.
Scholl has led the eAviation team since March 2021, when he was appointed senior v-p of the fledgling division, reporting directly to Textron Inc. CEO Scott Donnelly. Textron eAviation was formally established as an individual business segment and wholly owned subsidiary of Textron Inc. about one year later, when Scholl was named president and CEO. Before eAviation, Scholl held several senior leadership positions at Textron Aviation as well as the conglomerate's corporate headquarters.
Under Scholl’s stewardship, eAviation acquired electric aircraft manufacturer Pipistrel (which had already certified an electric airplane in Europe) and revamped efforts to develop the Nexus, a four-passenger, hybrid-electric aircraft concept originally designed by Bell, Textron’s helicopter-making division. Bell introduced its full-size Nexus concept at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2019, but work on the project stagnated until 2021, when Textron transferred the project to its new eAviation division.
Earlier this month, Textron eAviation announced the formation of a new customer advisory board for the development of the Nexus. So far the only member of that group is FlyExclusive, a business aviation company that has expressed interest in operating the aircraft but has not yet committed to purchasing it.
While most other eVTOL aircraft developers are campaigning to have their designs certified and in service in the 2024-2025 timeframe, Textron eAviation isn’t rushing to the finish line, Scholl told AIN in an interview last week. Scholl predicted the Nexus will enter service sometime around 2030, “but that's going to be driven by the continued development of several key technologies, including battery technology, 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,” he said.
Like most eVTOL vehicle developers, Textron’s engineers are eagerly awaiting advancements in battery technology to provide smaller, lighter batteries with higher energy densities, which in turn provide more range. The Nexus is projected to have a range of about 100 nm and a top speed of around 120 knots. Its full fly-by-wire design features an open rotor system with four fixed rotors and a pair of tiltrotors.
Electric aircraft are already limited to relatively short-range flights due to the constraints of battery technology today. This could prove to be especially challenging for the Nexus, which has a maximum takeoff weight of a 8,000 pounds. That’s heavier than any other eVTOL aircraft in development, and in some cases more than double the weight of other designs.
Regarding the weight, Scholl said, “We think this is where the aircraft is going to really end up to be not only certifiable, but you have a real aircraft that will actually perform a real mission.” In other words, the aircraft’s size and payload capacity are optimized to make it not only technologically feasible but also economically viable and profitable to operate. The five-seat vehicle, which has room for four passengers plus one pilot, can be configured for a variety of applications, such as air taxi services or emergency medical transport.
Despite some skepticism about the weight of its Nexus aircraft, Scholl said eAviation's engineering team believes the choice will prove to be valid in the longer term and they are not daunted by the technical challenge. “There's only one company in the world that has brought tiltrotor fly-by-wire technology to the market, and that's Textron and Bell with the V22 and the V280,” he said. “We understand some of the challenges around really making that type of technology work.”
Scholl added that “no one has certified more aircraft in the last 10 years than Textron ... If you look at that, we understand the process to not only design but to certify and manufacture the aircraft. So from that standpoint, if you talk about an organization that understands what it takes, I think that Textron does.”
So far Textron eAviation has constructed a 23-percent scale model and begun testing it in a wind tunnel. Meanwhile, the company is working to build its first full-scale prototype, which is expected to begin flight testing with that aircraft in 2024.