Interview: Carlos Salaff and Pete Bitar of LEO Flight explain clustered electric jet propulsion

LEO Flight has designed an elec­tric jet­pack that uses clus­ters of elec­tric jets for lift instead of rotors. Last Novem­ber we report­ed how the com­pa­ny was award­ed a DARPA con­tract for fur­ther devel­op­ment.

This is the foun­da­tion for the LEO Coupe all-elec­tric jet pro­pelled eVTOL, three-seat fly­ing car, and LYNX’s propul­sion sys­tems.

Pete Bitar and Car­los Salaff formed LEO Flight in the spring of 2020 in the midst of the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic as a joint-ven­ture between Pete’s Elec­tric Jet Air­craft com­pa­ny and Car­los’s SALAFF Auto­mo­tive com­pa­ny. Our con­tent writer, Boris Sedac­ca, asks the ques­tions.

eVTOL Insights: What were the main rea­sons for set­ting up LEO Flight?

Car­los Salaff: We saw a need for prac­ti­cal, safe, and high-per­for­mance aer­i­al mobil­i­ty that was not being rep­re­sent­ed by the cur­rent crop of AAM con­cepts. We envi­sioned a more per­son­al, com­pact, and scal­able solu­tion for mass adop­tion, that reclaims the con­cept of the ‘fly­ing car’ as imag­ined by the Jet­sons and oth­er Space Age sci­ence fic­tion.

eVTOL Insights: Can you tell us more about your eVTOL con­cept?

Car­los Salaff: The LEO Coupe is a 200-mph elec­tric-jet-pro­pelled fly­ing car intend­ed for direct door-door air trav­el, from your home to your des­ti­na­tion. It com­bines the speed and free­dom of an air­plane, with the con­ve­nience, pri­va­cy, and style of a car.

It seats 3–4 pas­sen­gers based on pay­load weight). We are design­ing a fast charg­ing land­ing pad called VertiStop for trips exceed­ing the 250-mile range, or any oth­er time a charge is need­ed. VertiStop can be placed on park­ing garages, park­ing lots, busi­ness­es and oth­er exist­ing infra­struc­ture.

The com­pact LEO Coupe and VertiStop solu­tions stand in con­trast to large, mul­ti­ro­tor drone air taxis that require heavy infra­struc­ture Ver­ti­Ports to oper­ate. This makes our con­cept less expen­sive, green­er, and eas­i­er to deploy for large-scale adop­tion.

eVTOL Insights: Do you have an esti­mat­ed time­line of when you expect the air­craft to be cer­ti­fied?

Car­los Salaff: We are aim­ing to bring the LEO Coupe to mar­ket in 2025

eVTOL Insights: How will it work once it is oper­a­tional? Will peo­ple be able to buy and own one them­selves, or will it be used as part of an UAM ser­vice?

Car­los Salaff: Per­son­al own­er­ship, as well as fleet use cas­es are intend­ed

eVTOL Insights: Where are the actu­a­tors used and how are they pow­ered?

Pete Bitar: We will have actu­a­tors for the con­trol sur­faces for for­ward flight, and they are all elec­tri­cal, fly-by-wire. Ver­ti­cal flight will be direct engine con­trol for pitch, roll and yaw.

eVTOL Insights: Are gyro­scopes deployed?

Pete Bitar: Yes they are redun­dant in our flight con­troller.

eVTOL Insights: What about feed­back & PID con­trol — how are the sig­nals inter­con­nect­ed?

Pete Bitar: All of this is in the flight con­troller, just like a drone.

eVTOL Insights: Why Clus­tered Elec­tric Jet Propul­sion instead of rotors?

Pete Bitar: Far more redun­dant, infi­nite­ly more com­pact, and rel­a­tive­ly com­pa­ra­ble effi­cien­cy. Far safer, reduces infra­struc­ture size and cus­tomiza­tion. Allows for safe­ty sys­tems like bal­lis­tic para­chutes with­out risk of dam­age from pro­pellers. High­er air­speed. It gives us the abil­i­ty to make an actu­al fly­ing car that is auto­mo­tive in size and foot­print, and offers bet­ter per­for­mance and safe­ty than props.

eVTOL Insights: Bat­tery pow­er den­si­ty — can you talk about size, weight and pow­er (SWaP) trade-offs? Are hybrid engines the way for­ward?

Pete Bitar: Hybrid is NOT the way for­ward. We will be using the Tes­la 4680 cell archi­tec­ture. These are test­ed to auto­mo­tive crash grade. No need to rein­vent. Ener­gy den­si­ty is around 280 wh/kg with those and give us our 250 mile range at 200 mph.

We are also in dis­cus­sions with two lithi­um metal/solid state bat­tery mak­ers that are going into pro­duc­tion when we are, which could push us up to 420 watt-hour per kilo­gram. This will only improve over time.

Hybrid is heav­ier because of the gen­er­a­tor, and then fuel burn is not some­thing we want to do, for all kinds of rea­sons. Bat­ter­ies make the most sense, for cost, safe­ty and
main­te­nance rea­sons.

eVTOL Insights Editorial

This article was compiled by the eVTOL Insights editorial team.

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