By Howard Hardee

New aircraft developer XTI Aerospace has chosen a development path unconstrained by current battery technology as it seeks to outperform the pack of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft by offering greater range, speed and payload.

The trade-off is that XTI’s conceptual TriFan 600 will burn jet fuel, while other companies are pursuing aircraft designs based on hybrid- and fully electric propulsion systems. 

During a 25 March conference call outlining XTI Aerospace’s business strategy, chief commercial officer Saleem Zaheer projected that 10 years will pass before battery technology can support the long-range, high-speed missions the start-up is targeting. 

“We tried to make this a hybrid-electric airplane using battery packs, and the numbers didn’t add up,” he says. “So, we’ve said, ’Let’s start first by certifying with certified turboshaft engines, then keep watching the technology develop and switch to hybrid-electric when that’s feasible.’”

The company says its engines will be capable of running on 100% sustainable aviation fuel.

101055 xtiaircraft3 722649XTI Aerospace has gone public with its ambitions of developing a long-range, high-speed business aircraft

Englewood, Colorado-based XTI, which was listed on the US stock exchange on 13 March, sees itself as competing with established helicopter makers and eVTOL start-ups such as Joby Aviation, Archer Aviation, Eve Air Mobility and Lilium. But chief executive officer Scott Pomeroy maintains that ”our unique and distinct performance differentiators mean we will really have limited competition within the industry”. 

The TriFan 600 is designed with attributes of both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. Pomeroy says it will not require new charging infrastructure, unlike eVTOLs, and using turbine engines rather than new and novel propulsion systems will “de-risk our certification path”. 

The so-called vertical-lift crossover aircraft will have an estimated payload capacity of 1,090kg (2,406lb), airspeed of 300kt (556km/h) and a range of about 608nm (1,126km) when taking off and landing vertically, with added range when the aircraft uses runways. It is designed to seat six passengers and one pilot.

”Given the inherent limitations of clean-energy power, the TriFan has been intentionally designed to incorporate proven aircraft systems and assemblies, like the two turboshaft engines,” Pomeroy says. ”The ducted fans for hover and cruise and the fly-by-wire controls are computer-regulated systems; no new manufacturing systems are required.” 

”The TriFan is essentially proven parts, proven systems and proven sub-assemblies in a newly conceived configuration and design,” he adds. 

The aircraft will feature a pressurised cabin and be capable of flying at altitudes as high as 25,000ft, Pomeroy says. 

XTI Aerospace previously assembled a 65% scale demonstrator aircraft, but a flight-testing programme was disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Zaheer. It has since focused on developing a full-scale, piloted prototype. 

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Aspects of XTI’s business plan – like how it plans to scale manufacturing of its proposed aircraft – are still murky.

“Whether we ultimately become our own OEM and build our own manufacturing capability, or we partner with one of the OEMs, is yet to be determined,” Pomeroy says. “There is excess manufacturing capacity we could definitely leverage.”

The long-term expectation is to produce 150-200 aircraft annually off a single production line. Pomeroy says the company is eyeing potential sites for “international facilities” that could boost its future manufacturing capabilities. 

The company says it could potentially pursue a military-oriented variant of the TriFan 600, and that it could eventually stretch the aircraft into a larger variant. 

XTI Aerospace is a combination between XTI Aircraft Company and Inpixon, which disclosed their intention to tie-up in August. The deal’s value was listed at $70.3 million in a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. The company is now trading on the Nasdaq stock exchange under the ticker ”XTIA”.

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