The United States Air Force has awarded Electra a Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) contract in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to advance the development of flight control systems for Electra’s hybrid eSTOL aircraft. 

In addition to the Air Force’s new agile combat employment doctrine to provide middle- and last-mile distributed cargo or island-hopping logistics, hybrid eSTOL aircraft will support runway-independent operations, where an airfield may no longer be accessible, with precision landing capabilities.

The STTR Phase II contract will fast-track Electra’s development of precision flight control systems for repeatable low-speed, ultra-STOL landings, which enable Electra to safely operate its eSTOL aircraft in spaces no larger than a soccer field. 

Electra plans to demonstrate the flight control system on a full-scale hybrid eSTOL technology demonstrator aircraft during flight testing later this year. 

The award follows a Phase I contract last year, under which the Electra-MIT team developed an eSTOL aeropropulsive model, a vehicle sizing tool, and a flight control performance simulation. 

“We are delighted to continue working with MIT and the U.S. Air Force to develop state-of-the-art flight control systems for ultra-STOL aircraft,” said Chris Courtin, Electra’s Lead Engineer of Flight Physics and Controls. 

“Reliable precision landings are key to Electra’s ability to deliver runway-independent operations with increased payload, range, and safety for both military and commercial users.

“We are honoured to be selected for this contract, and look forward to expanding our technology development partnerships to bring this capability to market.”

Dr Steven Hall, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT and former chair of the MIT AeroAstro faculty, who is the Technical Lead for the MIT team, added: “Electra’s distributed electric propulsion approach has great promise to improve STOL aircraft performance. We are excited for this opportunity to work with Electra and USAF to help develop the flight control system on this innovative aircraft.”

In February, Electra was awarded a Phase III Small Business Innovation Research contract from the U.S Air Force, through the Air Force Agility Prime programme, for flight testing a full-scale hybrid eSTOL technology demonstrator aircraft later this year. 

Electra was previously awarded an Agility Prime SBIR Direct-to-Phase II contract earlier last year, which accelerated the development of Electra’s hybrid-electric propulsion system technology. 

Also in February, the company partnered with Yugo to help expand air urban mobility services in the Asia-Pacific region, by deploying up to 12 eSTOL aircraft to enable high-speed transportation services for passengers and potentially cargo. 

Electra’s eSTOL aircraft can operate from spaces as small as 300×100 feet using distributed electric propulsion and blown lift technology, and will carry up to 1,800 pounds of cargo or nine passengers up to 500 miles. 

A small turbine-powered generator recharges the batteries mid-flight, eliminating the need for new ground charging infrastructure.