It seems logical. Fly an innovative, futuristic aircraft on a sim first, then build it. Beta Technologies, based in South Burlington, Vermont, is doing exactly that. Well, with some help, that is. Austin Meyer, the genius behind X-Plane and several other admirable things, including a great documentary on patent trolls, did the design of the flight model and the displays to go with it. At AirVenture2019 we missed Austin, but we caught up with the enthusiastic and very knowledgeable Tom O’Leary, Beta’s COO, who answered some of our questions. We were very excited to run into them as we have been wanting to talk to them for quite a while. This is a super-busy company, engaged in a field that is receiving a lot of attention worldwide, moreover, they are ahead of the eVTOL pack, because their aircraft, code-named AVA, actually flies. Alongside a handful of other eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft, this ups the pressure to bring things to completion even higher. UAM (urban air mobility) is likely the fastest-growing aviation segment today, at least as far as attention from investors, the media and the general public is concerned. Over $1 billion investments have been made in this sector as of September 2018 (per a NASA study). Back to flight simulators, Beta leveraged Austin’s deep understanding of aerodynamics and programming to develop the first instance of their eVTOL simulator. They were in luck, as Austin had also developed Xavion, an app that assists pilots while flying to navigate and monitor their flight conditions. Austin, who is an investor in Beta, started from the fuselage of a Lancair ES, added four tilting co-axial propellers on pylons, for a total of eight electric motors, extended the landing gears to clear the propellers from the ground and got the thing to fly at least virtually. The first prototype airplane came soon after, informed by the data collected through the sim experience which, in return, got improved with data coming from real flying.
Here is Tom, explaining the significance of the simulator for Beta:
Beta’s AVA has to contend with a number of technological issues, first and foremost the currently low battery power-to-weight ratio. At 250W per kilo (that’s a ton of weight to develop 330 hp for an hour), today’s batteries are limited in what endurance they can provide, so every electrical load has to be simulated very accurately and realistically to move the development forward. Although this may change as electrical storage improves, Tom added that they currently believe in battery swapping, rather than on-aircraft recharging. Add power-plant redundancy, noise levels, safety, and many other critical variables and you get an idea of how key simulation becomes to a successful prototype-to-production process.
We watched a demo of the sim by Lochie Ferrier. In the demo, we saw in action the triple displays which give the pilot navigation, power and system monitoring information. we apologize for the sub-par sound, it was really busy.
We look forward to visiting the company in Vermont and learn more about the development process of this promising and innovative aircraft.