Flying taxi, anyone? Solar Impulse co-pilot launches new electric aviation venture

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Co-pilot of world’s first solar plane to circle globe starts new company, to drive “new aviation solutions” – including flying cars.

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Imagine hopping on to an electric airplane on top of a building that transports you to the other side of the city in less than 10 minutes, with no impact on the environment, at the cost of a regular car?

It may sound far fetched, but no more so than circumventing the globe in an all-solar and battery powered airplane called the Solar Impulse.

And that is exactly what André Borschberg did, alongside co-pilot Bertrand Piccard in 2015-16: 42,000km in 17 legs using only the power of the sun.

Having ticked that off his list, however, Borschberg and a number of former colleagues have turned their focus to bigger things – including, but not limited to the cross-town electric air travel mentioned above – with a new company, called H55.

The company’s key goal is to further develop the potential of electric propulsion for existing airplane designs, as well as for “new aviation solutions” such as flying cars, drones and vertical take-off and landing aircraft.

And it has just completed its first financing round, through Silicon Valley and Swiss based venture capital firm NanoDimension, to help make this happen.

According to a media update this week, H55 has already developed its first-generation electric propulsion management system, and using “an experimentally certified electric acrobatic demonstrator aircraft” – aEro1 – successfully flown more than 50 hours with a battery endurance exceeding more than 1 hour.

The company is now working on electrifying its second aircraft, aiming to fly two hours only on batteries. Flight tests of this technology are expected to begin flight in the European summer of 2018.

“Electric air transport will drastically improve the way we live and move,” Borschberg said, in a statement in the media update.

“New concepts, which are only possible with electric propulsion, will soon allow for aircraft to take-off and land vertically and quietly.

“Imagine boarding an electric airplane on top of a building which can bring you to the other side of the city in less than 10 minutes, with no impact on the environment, at the KM cost of a car?

Borschberg said his team at H55 – which includes Sébastien Demont as chief technology officer and Gregory Blatt as head of business development – viewed the VC funding as invaluable to its cause.

“NanoDimension’s investment is our window to the Silicon Valley and as an accelerator to H55’s strategy in being a key player in changing the way people will travel in the future,” he said.

And the feeling from venture capitalists is rather mutual.

“(André) has more experience of flying electric aircraft than any other pilot or company in the world,” said NanoDimension founder and CEO Amyric Sallin.

“He trusted his life with the technology developed by his team to enable perpetual flight. Aviation regulators trusted them as well and certified SI2 allowing them to fly over cities, continents and oceans.

“When I saw aEro1, H55’s first electric aircraft, I was impressed and convinced. We are honoured to join this venture and to help them to become a leading provider of electric propulsion for the aviation industry,” Salin said.

“In 2003 Solar Impulse was told that building an airplane with the wingspan of a jumbo jet having the weight of a car was impossible,” added NanoDimension’s Patrick Aebischer, who is also President of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL).

“A few years later the first electric airplane was flying day and night on solar energy. Unquestionably, the H55 team has the right DNA to bring aviation into a new era,” he said.

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