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NASA Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL) Aircraft Technology for Public Services – A White PaperHistory has shown that our personal life is highly dependent on the technology that people have developed. A strategic scan of the aerospace environment at the beginning of the 21st century strongly suggests that the world might be approaching a new age of airpower—the era of electrified/hybrid aircraft propulsion. Undeniably, starting from the Montgolfier Brothers balloon flight in 1783, to the Wright Brothers piston engine flight in 1903, and the jet engine of the 1960s, or the space age of today, one can say that leaps in propulsion technology have marked the different ages of human flight. The technological advancements, brought at the beginning of 21st century by the revolution in data exchange, computational power, sensors, wireless communication, internet, and autonomy, contributed to the vision of this new age of propulsion we are approaching.

Historically, conventional vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft have been equipped with propulsion units relying on complex internal combustion machines (turbines, piston engines, for example), and complex mechanical arrangements (gearboxes, shafts, variable pitch propeller). By contrast, electric VTOL aircraft (eVTOL)1 rely on simpler propulsion units (electric motors and in some cases fixed-pitch propellers). This promotes redundancy and improves tolerance to failures, in turn improving safety. The use of simpler electric propulsion units should also allow significant acquisition and operating cost reductions. Whether full-electric (relying solely on batteries) or hybrid-electric (relying on a combination of batteries, fuel-powered engines, and generators.), eVTOLs are also expected to generate less noise and air pollution than conventional aircraft with similar payloads.

According to the 2019 Annual Review of IATA (International Air Transport Association) [ref.1], due to an expected increase in air transport traffic by 5% every year and a doubling of air transport passenger numbers to 8.2 billion by 2037 significant challenges are posed to the aviation industry. Furthermore, this report does not factor in the expected demand for short-range (intra-city) air transportation, which is in development and yet to be operational. The increased demand to fly creates a responsibility to expand in a sustainable manner and an endeavor to develop more environmentally-friendly aircraft. eVTOL aircraft, either piloted or autonomous, is gathering considerable interest worldwide. Modern and novel full-electric or hybrid-electric eVTOL configurations enable a new paradigm shift in air transportation as the aviation industry remains committed to its goals of carbon-neutral growth from 2020 onwards and cutting CO2 emissions to half 2005 levels by 2050.

While electric power has been used for decades, recent developments in mobile electric/hybrid propulsion coupled with advanced materials and autonomous systems may create the possibility to transition into the next age of air mobility propelled by electric/hybrid VTOL aircraft technology. Although eVTOL aircraft might seem like an incremental improvement or even a counterintuitive regression with regard to past VTOL development, it has in fact the potential to transform air mobility across a wide range of government applications. Previous transformations in aviation generated dramatic leaps in performance, but the cost was commensurate with performance, limiting quantity produced. This next age appears to take a different approach. Performance may not increase, but at this moment technology is poised for future urban mobility that will spawn commercial passenger drone services, that is, autonomous (pilotless) air taxis and thereby add a new dimension to the urban transportation mix of the future [ref. 2]. Advances in electric propulsion, autonomous flight technology, and 5G communication networks will enable this fast new-growing market to become a reality.

It is now time to envision the introduction of electric/hybrid eVTOL aircraft for Public Services2. We believe that in the next decades eVTOL aircraft will have the potential to become an essential tool to Public Service agencies around the world in applications such as firefighting, public safety, search and rescue, disaster relief and law enforcement. This is due to several major factors.

• First, with the increasing popularity of small, unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAVs) or drones, many companies today are focusing on the development of passenger UAVs designed to accommodate up to five passengers or equivalent cargo payload. Many such configurations are electric or hybrid-electric designs with VTOL capabilities. Several of these projects have started a flight test program and many more are expected to be in the experimental and development phase in 2020. Such revolutionary vehicles could be in commercial operations by 2030. These eVTOL systems could be ready for selected Public Services missions even sooner.
• Second, although these advanced eVTOL vehicles under development still need access to fuel (hybrid) and/or electric charging capability, they can take off and land from almost anywhere. Therefore, such vehicles, both manned and unmanned can be successfully integrated for the critical missions of the Public Services with extra deployment flexibilities.
• Third, advancement in electric propulsion systems in the automotive industry together with NASA’s leading efforts in electrification of aircraft propulsion systems, FAA’s ongoing active eVTOL certification programs, and EASA’s proposed framework for the certification of electric/hybrid small category VTOL aircraft in Europe [ref. 3] will help accelerate industry electric propulsion system development and integration.
• Finally, eVTOL vehicles could be deployed for Public Services sooner than air taxi or other commercial applications, since Public Services missions may be more easily approved based on specific mission criteria, localized airworthiness authority for public-use aircraft3, and are normally operating under centralized airspace management and control by the theater command. Moreover, public perception and acceptance are generally less of a concern when operations save lives and benefit the wider community.

The prioritized introduction of eVTOL aircraft in Public Services is ambitious, but we believe it is achievable in the coming decades if fundamental enablers (people and technologies) are engaged in defining the objectives and needs of these missions. The revolution that is currently taking place in eVTOL aircraft represents an unprecedented opportunity to develop a safer, more affordable, more available and more environmentally friendly future of vertical flight. To ensure that these novel aircraft meet the future expectations of Public Services, it is essential to take a collaborative and multi-disciplinary approach to their development, across engineering disciplines, policy-making, program management, business case development, manufacturing, and flight demonstrations.

It should be noted that the term eVTOL (in the near term) used throughout this publication implies aircraft capable of transporting up to 5 persons which may or may not include a pilot if operated fully autonomously, assuming an average of 200 pounds (91 kg) per person or equivalent payload and a range up to 60 miles plus a suitable reserve. Hybrid or hydrogen powered eVTOLs would have greater range. For example, a “3-seat” eVTOL aircraft may only be able to carry two fully equipped firemen, and payload capacity is more relevant when used for the supply mission. Moreover, this paper concentrates on the “last-mile” solutions with a deployment time of no more than 6 hours. Although not specifically discussed in this document, it is understood that the future of Transformative Vertical Flight in general and Public Services, in particular, will also involve smaller UAVs that will undoubtedly play a crucial role in future aerial operations. For example, smaller unmanned aircraft may be used to dispatch medical supplies, portable filtration systems or perform the Search task of future Search and Rescue (SAR) operations.

Close collaboration between the aircraft industry, the Civil Aviation Authorities (CAA), e.g., Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), Transport Canada Civil Aviation (TCCA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) certifiers, will help identify Public Services requirements, define expectations and limit development cost and timescales. Take the US Air Force Agility Prime as an example, the majority of the eVTOL application opportunities and mission elements identified are in line with the NASA TVF WG-4 objectives and use cases. Together, it forms a strong partnership to accelerate the development, certification, and practical deployment for public service missions.

The US Air Force Agility Prime has been a collaboration partner on this white paper, and provided valuable input and recommendations. Most of the eVTOL public service mission elements discussed in this paper and additional use cases envisioned by the NASA TVF WG-4 team are shared by the Agility Prime program. The focus and efforts of the Agility Prime in product and system development, industry and government partnership, accelerated certifications as well as early test and deployment are totally in sync with the path forward recommended by this white paper. This kind of collaboration and partnership will help enable the practical use of the eVTOL for public service missions, benefit the eVTOL public acceptance, and accelerate the eVTOL industry revolution.
Document ID
Document Type
White Paper
Johnny T. Doo
(International Vehicle Research, Inc. Mobile, AL)
Marilena D. Pavel
(Delft University of Technology Delft, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands)
Arnaud Didey
(Neoptera Aero Bristol, U.K.)
Craig Hange
(Ames Research Center Mountain View, California, United States)
Nathan P. Diller
(United States Air Force Arlington, Virginia, United States)
Michael A. Tsairides
(KBR (United States) Houston, Texas, United States)
Michael Smith
(Textron Systems (United States) Providence, Rhode Island, United States)
Edward Bennet
(Complete AUV Queensland, Australia)
Michael Bromfield
(University of Birmingham Birmingham, United Kingdom)
Jessie Mooberry
(Airbus SV San Francisco, CA )
Date Acquired
April 8, 2020
Publication Date
August 1, 2021
Publication Information
Subject Category
Aeronautics (General)
Funding Number(s)
WBS: 330693.
Distribution Limits
Portions of document may include copyright protected material.
Technical Review
Professional Review
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