Hyundai says its four-passenger eVTOL will be ready by 2028

The last time Hyundai brought an electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) prototype to CES was in 2020, and the South Korean automaker spoke optimistically about its addition to Uber’s upcoming air taxi network.

Today, Uber’s air taxi network has been sold to another startup, the air taxi industry as a whole is still struggling to get a commercial service up and running, and Hyundai is unveiling a new ‘product concept’ that it says will be ready for production . by 2028.

Supernal, the carmaker’s eVTOL division, says its S-A2 concept can reach a speed of 200 km/h and a height of 450 meters. It has enough battery capacity for the kind of 25- to 40-mile trips that helicopters typically perform between city centers and airports for wealthy business types.

Supernal says its S-A2 concept can reach a speed of 200 km/h and reach a height of 450 meters

The company says its aircraft will operate “as quietly as a dishwasher,” emitting 65 decibels during vertical takeoff and landing phases and 45 dB during horizontal flight. For comparison, the average helicopter produces between 96 and 107 dB. Besides eliminating pollution, noise reduction is the most common argument in favor of electric aircraft.

With eight tilt rotors and an egg-shaped cabin, Supernal’s concept is similar to other air taxi prototypes we’ve seen, including those from Joby Aviation, Wisk Aero and Archer Aviation.

Supernal is one of a handful of companies looking to replace noisy, polluting helicopters and regional jets with all-electric, multi-rotor vehicles designed for short trips between nearby airports or quick runs from an urban center to a local airport.

Initially, these aircraft were incorrectly labeled as ‘flying cars’, based on their ability to take off and land vertically like a helicopter and then switch to forward flight through the use of electrically powered tilt rotors. Early on, companies embraced the “flying car” label, trying to capitalize on the retro-futuristic appeal that harked back to old Popular science And Popular mechanics covers and technical eccentricities such as the ‘Moller Skycar’.

But as they slowly slog through endless testing procedures imposed by a lengthy regulatory process, they have since rallied around new nomenclature, such as eVTOL, urban air mobility, advanced air mobility and air taxis.

There has been a lot of turbulence in this emerging industry. A number of startups have gone bankrupt, most notably Google founder Larry Page’s Kitty Hawk, which helped kick off the boom in 2017. There have been lawsuits, layoffs, mergers and no shortage of drama, including a handful of fires and blazes. at least one (uncrewed) crash.

Supernal’s ties with Hyundai could give the company an advantage in producing its aircraft, as the spinoff will be able to rely on the automaker’s mass production capabilities to help it get started. But the company will have no special advantages when it comes to regulatory approval, which promises to be long and difficult.

Under FAA rules, aviation companies must receive three types of certification before they can launch commercial service in the U.S.: Type certification means the aircraft meets all FAA design and safety standards; production certification is the approval to begin production of the aircraft; and airline certification means the company can officially operate commercial air taxi services.

Supernal says it is paying close attention to batteries, particularly the ability to upgrade to lighter cells as technology improves. One of the biggest challenges with electric flying is the power-to-weight ratio. Heavy batteries create more weight, requiring more power to compensate, and even larger batteries. That’s why Supernal and others are focusing on short flights and regional hops.

Supernal says it pays a lot of attention to batteries

But Supernal is not so deterred by the technological challenges that it cannot imagine a cozy interior with fine leather upholstery. The design is sleek and minimal, with lighting intended to give the impression that you are in a larger space.

Hyundai isn’t the only global company seeing visions of small electric planes buzzing over cities. Stellantis, owner of Jeep, Chrysler and Dodge, is committed to mass-producing air taxis for Archer Aviation. United and Delta airlines are also investing in the technology, as are Boeing and NASA.

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