Skai plans for a future of green hydrogen-powered VTOL aircraft

flying car (aircraft), federal aviation administration, hydrogen fuel

VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft are rapidly growing from prototypes to commercial vehicles. But while most prioritize electric batteries, there’s a suite of companies developing hydrogen-powered VTOLs, including the from US company Alaka’i

I recently spoke to Brian Morrison, co-founder, president, and CTO, to find out more.

 

Why is Skai using hydrogen, not lithium-ion batteries?

Firstly, I was curious why hydrogen instead of Lithium-ion batteries. Morrison said:

“Lithium-ion batteries scare me.” He recalled the Boeing 787 lithium-ion battery fires in 1987. Boeing had delivered the aircraft to the airline just 18 days prior. In that time, the plane logged 22 flight cycles without incident.

Another 787 made an emergency landing in Japan after pilots received a battery malfunction warning five days later.

These two events led the FAA to ground the entire 787 fleet. It was the first time the agency had given such an order for a line of aircraft since 1979.

As Morrison explained:

The more energy you try to draw out of the battery, the hotter it gets. You want to recharge it as quickly as possible. But the more energy you’re trying to put into the battery as quickly as possible, the hotter it gets. At some point, it becomes dangerous, and managing that across hundreds or thousands of battery packs will be a real challenge.

Morrison has an extensive history in aviation, including developing black box recorders. He recalled:

I started looking at eVTOLs as a serious possibility in 2012. I did literally hundreds of simulations to convince myself that battery eVTOL was viable. And I wound up convincing myself that it wasn’t.

Every time you double the amount of battery on board, you’re increasing the weight so much that we’re only going to get another two or three or four minutes of flight time.

A lonely approach to aircraft innovation

Morrison refocused on hydrogen fuel cells, noting a family history. His dad was a senior program manager on the Apollo program — the Apollo mission used fuel cells to generate electricity. He filed the first patents in 2013, and he notes:

We’re taking a lonely but fundamentally different approach because it’s safer and better for the environment and safer and better for the passengers.

How receptive is the FFA to a hydrogen VTOL like Skai?

Morrisonn has a long history of involvement in flight certifications for Boeing and Airbus.
He explained:

With previous FAA meetings, you might get three or four FAA representatives to show up. In our first eight or nine meetings with the FAA on this program, we’ve never had less than 25 FAA representatives. They’ve been extraordinarily supportive. It’s a new technology to them, so they’re excited about it.

According to Morrison, the biggest challenge from the FAA standpoint was the uniqueness of the vehicle:

It’s not a Part 23 fixed-wing aircraft. It’s not a part 27 rotorcraft, it’s a combination of requirements in-between those two, plus it’s an electric aircraft. Plus, it’s hydrogen fuel cells. So it took almost a year and a half to beat our way through an accumulated list of requirements that everybody could agree on.

VTOL production is a highly competitive space

How does the Skai team stack up to other founders in the space? Morrison said:

Early on, Uber was having meetings where they tried to bring the whole eVTOL community together. And in these meetings, there’ll be a roomful of heavily venture-funded people that have never certified an aircraft before.

They were saying some of the most ridiculous things. “Oh, well, we’ll just tell the FAA, this is how it’s gonna be. We don’t need such and such requirements.”

The degree of rigor required surprises them. There’s not just hand waving that says, “Yeah, that looks good enough, right, and take off.”Long-distance flight with easy refueling infrastructure

flying car (aircraft), federal aviation administration, hydrogen fuel

The Skai will initially pilot passengers but later fly autonomously.

The Skai is being made to handle a four-hour flight without the need to refuel. It’s able to land almost anywhere as it hasn’t the refueling infrastructure limitations of traditional eVTOLs.

As Morrison asserts:

A lot of eVTOL folks are panicking about vertiports and building out supplies to charge their batteries.

But we don’t need that. We can fly, deposit passengers, pick up new passengers, fly to another location, do that six, or eight, or ten times up to the 400-mile range. And then, we can move to either a mobile refueling truck or to a fixed tanker location on the ground. Fuelling the vehicle takes between six and eight minutes.

He also noted that nobody wants to talk about the emissions behind the energy produced by megawatt eVTOL battery chargers.

​​Skai has signed a deal with Orbital Marine in the UK to take tidal energy from the River Thames and convert it to green hydrogen. Definitely a powerful collaboration.

What’s the market for a hydrogen VTOL like Skai?

So, who’s going to fly in a Skai?

Emergency responders and the US National Guard are a crucial audience for Skai, especially when they otherwise can’t access jet fuel due to flooding.

Further, the National Guard can operate under military authority, exempting them from FAA certification requirements. This makes it possible to build and deliver vehicles to the National Guard much earlier.

Cardinal missions are also a focus. In these, VTOLs are operated to offshore locations ahead of FAA certification carry supplies, providing an opportunity to gain experience with a vehicle.

But everyday aviation is also in the works too. Skai has a letter of intent with a LA company to buy 40 vehicles to start and an option for as many as 1320 vehicles for traditional people moving.

Of course, the challenge is getting from idea to end product.

The economy of scale

One of the biggest problems in aviation has been an inability to scale. As Morrison explained: “They see mass production across the entire industry as producing 900 aircraft a year. That’s not mass production.”

Alaka’i’s goal from day one has been to design a vehicle with automotive standards. Thus, an automotive-style production line makes it easy to scale. According to Morrison:

It’s not that different from a Tesla when you think about it. Skai has electric motors and a carbon-fiber structure. We have rotors instead of tires. And we have an avionics electronics panel instead of a self-driving.

If you ask me, cheaper production costs make it possible to achieve mass production. Cheaper aircraft also means more affordable flights. So while Skai won’t be first in the sky, it does offers a green pathway into the future of aviation. And that’s never been more critical than now.

TECH NEWS RELATED

Chiral TADF-active polymers for high-efficiency, circularly polarized organic light-emitting diodes

Graphical abstract. Credit: DOI: 10.1002/anie.202110794 A beam of light can be divided into left-handed and right-handed polarized light by physical methods. Chiral fluorescent materials can emit different left-handed and right-handed polarized light when they are excited, which is called circularly polarized luminescence (CPL). To take full advantage of this ...

View more: Chiral TADF-active polymers for high-efficiency, circularly polarized organic light-emitting diodes

With modified mashing process, gluten-free grains can produce quality beers

Beer is traditionally derived from barley, wheat or rye — which are gluten-containing grains. But quality beers can be brewed from gluten-free grains like these, too, the researchers contend. Credit: Andrew Ledley/Penn State / Penn State, Creative Commons Using a modified, lower temperature mashing procedure to retain enzyme activity, ...

View more: With modified mashing process, gluten-free grains can produce quality beers

Cover crops make vineyards more sustainable, and strategy can be marketing tool

Excessive precipitation events have greatly increased in frequency and severity in some grape-growing regions, including the U.S. Northeast. The researchers demonstrated that either natural or seeded “under-vine vegetation” can help mitigate many of the problems associated with excessive precipitation. Credit: Michela Centinari/Penn State / Penn State Growing cover crops under grapevines ...

View more: Cover crops make vineyards more sustainable, and strategy can be marketing tool

Liming and phosphorus increase cassava yields

Harvested and washed cassava roots. Cassava is a main source of calories in many countries, and provides calcium, potassium, vitamins B and C, and essential minerals. Credit: Bruno Gazola Cassava is a vital source of calories for close to a billion people across the world. The plant is a ...

View more: Liming and phosphorus increase cassava yields

Twitch and Beyond: The Best Video Game Live Streaming Services for 2022

Ever wanted to broadcast your play sessions to the world or watch others do the same? With the right live streaming service you can. Here are our top picks.

View more: Twitch and Beyond: The Best Video Game Live Streaming Services for 2022

The Best Anime Streaming Services for 2022

Japan produces a vast amount of anime, and we've reviewed the top online services for watching it legally.

View more: The Best Anime Streaming Services for 2022

How to Make a Video Game: The Best Game Development Software for 2022

Consumer-grade game dev software helps turn your game concepts into real products, with no previous coding experience required. Chase your game-making dreams with these top tools.

View more: How to Make a Video Game: The Best Game Development Software for 2022

Fine-tuning remote sensing to protect forests from the spread of dangerous insect infestations

PIDS-detected beetle activity map vs. Aerial Detection Survey (ADS) map. The PIDS result shows high agreement with the ADS map which was annually produced from aerial manual sketch mapping, while the time-series approaches such as PIDS/CCDC is much more economically effective and are able to provide near real-time updates ...

View more: Fine-tuning remote sensing to protect forests from the spread of dangerous insect infestations

Big North Carolina factory likely to be Toyota battery plant

Anthropogenic disturbance, the main factor affecting habitat quality of the great bustard population in Western China

Employment interventions boost disability employability by 25%

New study shows benefits of mindfulness for middle-school teachers

Why dingoes should be considered native to mainland Australia, even though humans introduced them

Acer Predator Helios 500 (PH517-52) launched in India with Intel Core i9 CPU, RTX 3080 GPU, 120Hz 4K Mini LED Display

Using virtual reality to treat pain and anxiety

Billionaire investor Chris Sacca says day traders are begging him for bailouts — and reveals he bought the dip

UK proptech investment hits record £1.6bn

TCL 55-Inch 6-Series 4K Google TV 55R646

Windows 11 vs. Windows 10, Tested: Will the OS Upgrade Speed Up Your Current PC?

India's HCL Tech says to hire 12,000 in U.S. over 5 years

OTHER TECH NEWS

;