Wind tunnel testing to help prove electric logistics aircraft capabilities

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by Emily Atkins

Electra.aero, Inc. has won a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract from the U.S. Army valued at US$1.9 million.

The funding will support powered wind tunnel testing of Electra’s hybrid-electric short takeoff and landing (eSTOL) aircraft. The award enables the U.S. Army to explore Electra’s unique blown-wing aircraft technology potential to broaden U.S. military capabilities, especially for fuel-efficient, resilient logistics in contested environments.

Results from flight testing of Electra’s 2-seat experimental tech demonstrator aircraft, ongoing since November 2023, combined with the Army-funded powered wind tunnel test of Electra’s prototype contested logistics aircraft design, will inform the final design of Electra’s eSTOL product aircraft.

Electra’s eSTOL combines helicopter-like operational flexibility with superior fixed wing-like performance and operating costs. The combination of blown lift and eight distributed electric motors significantly increases wing lift, enabling ultra-short takeoffs and landings from spaces as small as a soccer field, and dramatically reduced noise and fuel use compared to conventional aircraft and helicopters. Hybrid-electric power ensures ranges beyond 1,000 miles without the need for battery charging stations.

“There is a substantial benefit to employing the right-sized aircraft for a given payload-range mission,” said Ben Marchionna, Electra’s Director of Technology and Innovation.

“It’s a very effective method to substantially reduce fuel use – or operational energy – in theatre, which really matters for enabling distributed operations in contested locations. Many of the most commonly deployed military logistics solutions in use today are flown well below their intended payload capacity. Our eSTOL aircraft can fulfill these missions while using dramatically less fuel, providing much more range, operating at significantly reduced noise levels, and utilizing the same constrained operational ground footprints. It’s an extremely compelling capability and we’re thrilled to be working with the Army team to advance this key national security technology.”

The powered wind tunnel testing will advance Electra’s novel aerodynamics database for use in performance analysis, simulator, and control law development. These wind tunnel tests, combined with ground tests and the ongoing flight test program of Electra’s eSTOL technology demonstrator aircraft, will be used to help guide the design and development of Electra’s production aircraft.