Aergility hits major milestone with untethered ATLIS hover test

Aergility hits major milestone with untethered ATLIS hover test

By Scott Simmie


A US-based company called Aergility just hit a major milestone worth recognising. The company’s uncrewed cargo vehicle, called ATLIS, successfully completed multiple untethered test hovers on May 10.

This is a big deal on the path toward commercialisation for Aergility, which has designed an aircraft unlike any other we’ve seen. It’s a VTOL with a small fixed wing that also employs managed autogyro technology to assist in lift.

We first saw this just over two years ago in Florida, at the AUVSI show. The company was attracting a lot of attention because of its range (800km/500 miles) and payload capabilities (300 pounds then; since upgraded to 500 pounds).

At the time, the product on the floor still required further integration and FAA permission before test flights could commence. Last fall, Aergility conducted successful tethered test flights – but this was the first time it was in a free hover, manually controlled by a pilot. In all, there were four test hovers, each lasting roughly a minute. Pitch, yaw and control functions were successfully tested. The aircraft also flew out of ground effect mode, to a height of six metres (20′).

“The solid performance of ATLIS in its initial and subsequent hover flights gives us the confidence to move to forward flight testing in early June. We are excited about demonstrating the full potential of ATLIS to our stakeholders,” said Jim Vander Mey, CEO of Aergility Corporation.

We’ll get into far more details about this aircraft in a moment. But first, here’s a look at a video Aergility just posted showcasing the event.




The beauty of ATLIS is its simplicity.

Takeoff (and hovering) is accomplished by six electrically powered rotors (the commercial version will feature eight rotors in four coaxial pairs for redundancy purposes).

Once airborne, the front tractor turboprop spins up and the aircraft begins forward flight with no awkward transition. The VTOL stage of flight lasts only about 30 seconds, so ATLIS doesn’t need to carry massive batteries.

As the forward speed increases, the power supplied to the lifting motors is reduced and eventually tapers to net zero when ATLIS reaches reaches an airspeed of 112-128 km/hr (70-80 mph). In forward flight, airspeed spins the lifting rotors.

But these rotors aren’t simply freely spinning. Remember this is “managed autogyration” – which means ATLIS is in control of the RPMs at all time – with the ability to slow some or speed up others.

“We get our forward propulsion from a turboprop, and airflow goes through the rotors to provide autogyro-type of lift,” explained Brian Vander Mey, Aergility’s head of Business Development and Partnerships.
“Our wings provide a portion of lift during cruise flight, but the rotors themselves carry about 40 per cent of the lift.”



Although there are control surfaces for testing in the current version of ATLIS (trim tabs and a rudder for slow-speed manoeuvering), the eventual version for clients will have no control surfaces. Pitch, roll and yaw functions in both hover and forward flight operate in a similar fashion to a standard quadcopter, with variations in speed between the different lifting rotors resulting in the desired manoeuvre.

“To summarize the technology, essentially the aircraft takes off and lands vertically like a normal multi-rotor aircraft,” says Brian Vander Mey.

“But in forward flight the power for our rotors slowly tapers off until it’s down to zero net power for forward flight…(that’s where) our rotors go into a state that we call managed autorotation. It is called that because of the fine control we have over the autorotation state, allowing us to stay at net zero power while still having attitude and maneuvering control – which would expend net power in a quadcopter.”

Remember, Aergility is in control of those RPMs at all times. That means if pitch, yaw or roll are required, it can accomplish this by putting the brakes on the appropriate rotors and speeding up others. In doing so, similar to a Tesla, regenerative braking is involved.

“So if we need to make some sort of a banking maneuver, we may accelerate rotors on one side and brake rotors on the other side, which both consumes and generates power, but in equal proportions. So we end up maintaining net zero power usage across the whole system.”

In other words, the energy created by putting the brakes on one rotor generates electricity that is applied to another. Because of this design, ATLIS doesn’t have to carry much battery power, which means lower battery weight and greater payload capacity.

“That means that our range is only limited by the amount of fuel that we have on board.”

Below: An image from an Aergility information deck shows how the system works

Aergility Deck



Its impressive payload capacity and range make ATLIS ideal for getting critical cargo to remote locations, or places with limited infrastructure. It requires only a 9m x 9m (roughly 30′ x 30′) space for takeoff of landing, and the company says it has a small downwash and noise signature.

This makes it ideal, says Brian Vander Mey, for multiple use-case scenarios. It is perfect, he says, for “anywhere that is difficult to access due to its remoteness, or where the cost of getting there is prohibitive, or areas with non-existent, limited, or damaged infrastructure.”

He then offers a few examples:

“This could include places like Puerto Rico, where all of the roads were destroyed by Hurricane Maria. It could be used in mining, oil & gas – really anywhere that fits that profile that it’s hard, dangerous or expensive to get there via other means.

“Canada may be one of the biggest potential opportunities. We’ve spoken with Canada Post and learned of the challenges delivering to the northern regions and First Nations communities, and with the massive wildfire problems, this aircraft can address remote support.”

CEO Jim Vander Mey adds: “We look forward to the impact this technology will have on various industries, including logistics, disaster relief, and military applications.”





The current version of ATLIS will be going through further testing, starting with forward flight in June of 2024. Meanwhile, the team is also looking ahead to a new iteration of ATLIS intended for production for clients. Lessons have been learned – as always in R&D – that can help improve the next generation. The cargo hold will be larger and modular, the rotors will be higher off the ground to allow ground crews to move safely below the aircraft, and the previously mentioned eight-rotor coaxial VTOL system will be incorporated.

“That will enable us to lose one to two rotors and still complete a mission – not simply just be able to get down to the ground under control,” says Brian Vander Mey.

And remember how ATLIS is only required to carry minimal batteries because the period of hovering is quite brief? An onboard generator that’s part of the turboprop engine recharges those batteries completely in as little as eight to 10 minutes during forward flight. And if that generator stops working? Aergility has a solution for that, as well.

“In the event the generator was to fail, we can change the angle of attack of the aircraft,” he says.

In other words, pitch down slightly to increase the airspeed spinning those VTOL rotors.

“So the entire aircraft has more aerodynamic energy coming across the rotors and we can recharge directly off of the rotors from forward flight without the the intermediate generator on the motor.”

As stated, this machine can fly 800 kilometres (500 miles) carrying 227 kg (500 pounds). That also means it could fly shorter distances with a heavier payload – or an exceptionally long range if the payload is additional fuel. Vander Mey says the commercial version of ATLIS will be able to fly some 3,400km (1900 miles) if that cargo bay is carrying additional fuel as its payload.

Below: More data from a supplied Aergility information deck:





Uncrewed cargo vehicles like ATLIS will play an important role in the coming world of Advanced Air Mobility – where airspace is shared between traditional aircraft and this new generation of vehicles. The FAA and Transport Canada have their own long-term plans on achieving this integrated airspace and both regulators are fully onboard with this vision of the future. Uncrewed vehicles will (generally) offer more sustainable flight, and be able to drop into locations unreachable except by helicopters at a reduced cost.

We’ve written about this world at length here. It’s also worth mentioning that in Canada, the lobby organization the Canadian Advanced Air Mobility Consortium is working closely with regulators and the industry to ensure a smooth transition forward.

There’s no question that under-serviced areas and remote locations – including those with zero traditional aviation infrastructure – will benefit greatly. There’s also, of course, the important use-cases of getting emergency supplies into disaster zones.

That world isn’t going to happen tomorrow. Nor is the FAA certification of ATLIS – a meticulous and time-consuming process that will truly begin when the commercial version of the aircraft is built. In the meantime, Aergility is operating with a Special Airworthiness Certificate (SAC-EC) from the FAA. It also has Certificates of Authorization (COAs) that cover an area near its local hangar, which grants permission for forward flight testing within a specific area (roughly 10 square miles, or 2,590 hectares). It also allows for flights at higher altitudes.




When it comes to commercial applications, Aergility knows that process will be lengthy. It’s following standards set up by ASTM International during all phases of design, construction and testing.

“Industry standards are being developed through organizations like ASTM,” says Brian Vander Mey. “We expect that by aligning our processes with what ASTM is developing, that will be the the cleanest path to permission to operate in the US.”

And until that coveted certification is reached? Aergility says FAA Waivers for specific operations will be obtained to enable commercial flights for operations until then.

“We don’t need Waivers for our own testing because of our special FAA permissions. But potentially we’ll have clients initially flying under Waivers.”

Aergility ATLIS



We were impressed with ATLIS from the moment we first saw the vehicle. Its cargo capacity and range filled a void, and the managed autogyration is an ingenious concept. But it’s one thing to see a static, non-functioning display on a convention floor – and quite something else to see this machine carry out multiple stable hovers.

“Aviation R&D is a very tricky business, and becomes more complex with larger aircraft intended for eventual certification,” says InDro Robotics CEO Philip Reece.

“This is an incredible milestone for ATLIS and the Aergility team. We see great potential for this aircraft in multiple use-case scenarios, and look forward to success in the upcoming forward flights.”

To learn more about Aergility and its progress, check out its website here. You can also follow Aergility on LinkedIn here.


Canadian Advanced Air Mobility Consortium attends Dubai Airshow

Canadian Advanced Air Mobility Consortium attends Dubai Airshow

By Scott Simmie


Ever been to a *really* big airshow?

The two best-known take place in the UK and France on alternating years. One is the Farnborough International Airshow (been there twice), and the Paris Airshow (Salon du Bourget). From the biggest passenger-carrying jets in the world down to the tiniest fastener, these massive events include every element in the aerospace supply chain (and then some). From Airbus to Rolls Royce, in-flight entertainment systems to military-spec rivets, you’ll find them there.

One of the other major global events is the Dubai Airshow. With more than 1400 exhibitors and 180+ aircraft on flying or static display, it’s also a must-attend.

This year’s event took place November 13-17, and one of the key themes was the rapidly approaching era of Advanced Air Mobility. That’s the world where transformative and sustainable aircraft (including air taxis) will play a role in transporting goods and people both within major cities and to smaller communities not currently served by traditional aviation. Many if not most of these new aircraft are being designed for eventual autonomous operation.

Canada, of course, has a stake in this new world. In fact, we recently wrote about the purchase by Vancouver’s Helijet of an eVTOL aircraft (a BETA Technologies ALIA 250) for crewed operations in British Columbia. So we were pleased to see that the Canadian Advanced Air Mobility Consortium (CAAM) attended – and presented at – the Dubai Airshow.


Dubai AAM



Formed in 2019, CAAM is the national voice representing Advanced Air Mobility in Canada. With 70+ members spanning industry, government, academia and associations, CAAM plays a crucial role in this emerging sector. Its stated vision is to create “A unified national strategy for Zero-Emission Advanced Air Mobility with regional implementation in Canada.” And its mission?

“To build an ecosystem of national collaboration in creating and operating a sustainable, equitable and profitable Advanced Air Mobility industry in Canada.”

CAAM is led by Executive Director JR Hammond, who represented the organization – and by extension, Canada – at the Dubai Airshow. We asked him for his own short definition of AAM:

“It changes our concept of how we move people, goods and resources across our cities and regions. With these new aircraft we no longer are constrained to just railways, marine or ground transportation,” he says.

Dubai was Hammond’s first international air show – and it left quite an impression.

“We were blown away not only by the representation of Advanced Air Mobility in the RPAS sector, but how leading organizations globally – Asia, North America and Europe – brought aircraft and technology to the Middle East to showcase. This bubbling of activity globally is only expediting our operational pathways.”

Below: The Archer Aviation Midnight, an electric AAM vehicle capable of flying 160 kilometres (100 miles). The aircraft has been optimized for shorter flights of roughly 32 km (20 miles) with a charge time between flights of just 12 minutes.





The spark for the trip came from CAAM’s national board, says Hammond. It suggested to the executive team it would be worthwhile for the organization to have a greater presence at global gatherings – and specifically at air shows.

While a lot of AAM attention focuses on the impressive emerging aircraft technology, Hammond says there are a number of pillars that must be aligned for Advanced Air Mobility to truly take flight. Obviously, there’s the Uncrewed Traffic Management aspect – the safe integration of pilotless aircraft into traditional airspace.

But there are many other challenges CAAM has been exploring and believes are integral to the future success of AAM.

“There’s a lot of other pillars that countries and different delegations are not focusing on – like the insurance industry, or the cyber security aspect of communication. So we were tasked by the board to showcase Canada – how we can bring all of these different pillars to the global scale. A lot of these nations are not doing this and they’re seeing the challenges.

“The great example given is United Arab Emirates, which arguably is one of the leaders in AAM with their Drone Up operations… They have not focused on how they’re going to integrate this into conventional airspace, how they’re going to bring this on with different telecommunication providers and insurance providers. That’s what we’re focusing on right now and they were learning a lot from us.”

Below: JR Hammond (holding microphone) onstage during one of two sessions where he was a panelist. The first was “Pathway to eVTOL commercialisation” and the second was “Advanced aerial cargo delivery advancements.”


JR Hammond CAAM Dubai



There’s a lot of work ahead.

Obviously, there’s the development, validation and certification of aircraft. Though there are some full-scale designs now operational (such as the EHang EH216-S, which was certified in October by the Civil Aviation Administration of China), many companies are still working with scale models or Minimum Viable Products. Certification through agencies like the FAA is, by necessity, a methodical and demanding process that takes years.

There’s also the question of how to safely integrate these new vehicles into airspace currently used by traditional aviation. Will there be specific low-level flight corridors set aside for smaller AAM aircraft/RPAS in urban settings? (Mostly likely yes, and almost certainly in Canada and the US. In fact, InDro is involved in some of the research and test flights for this).

Will there be rules around where and how many Vertiports (takeoff and landing sites for eVTOL aircraft) can be established in cities? Will certain use-cases, such as urgent medical deliveries, take priority in the early phase of adoption to build public acceptance? What role in standards and operational guidelines will the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) ultimately play?

And then there are those pillars JR Hammond alluded to: Communications, insurance, cyber-security and more.

It sounds like a lot to overcome – and it is. And that’s why conversations and panels like those which took place in Dubai are so critical as the move to AAM begins to accelerate.

“Even though we are all at different stages, the amount of collaboration already occurring in saying: ‘We need to solve this together’ was by far greater than anything than I’ve ever seen before in aerospace or business,” says Hammond.

So the commitment and collaborative spirit is there.

Dubai Hammond AAM



There is a consensus, particularly with passenger-carrying aircraft, that the jump to autonomous flight won’t be immediate. There will be a graduated approach, starting with a pilot on board those aircraft. It’s anticipated early flights will be manually controlled, then monitored by a pilot still capable of taking over if required.

“In terms of autonomy, any market entry piece will happen with a pilot on board with full control and an augmented system similar to the autopilot systems that we have on commercial airliners today,” says Hammond.

“Then, as regulations and social acceptance and – of course – our policies increase, then we can move upwards on our autonomy scales towards that ‘human in the loop’ and then of course autonomous aircraft at some point in the future.”

But, says Hammond, it will be cargo deliveries – both intra-urban and inter-regional – that will come first.

“We need autonomous operations today in the cargo space before we even have a chance at the passenger space… And more resources and more efforts are needed to solve out what those air corridors can look like, with autonomous aircraft operating in our conventional airspace.”

Below: Mid-sized drones like this, carrying medical or other critical supplies, will likely be the vanguard of the transition to AAM.

Dubai Hammond AAM



With a variety of InDro Robotics delivery drones – including a model proven in trials for temperature-sensitive medical deliveries between hospitals – InDro has a vested interest in the AAM future. But it’s not just about us – far from it.

“I believe AAM will be truly transformative – and I’m not talking about the delivery of coffee and bagels to someone’s back yard,” says InDro Robotics CEO Philip Reece.

“Advanced Air Mobility will mean that critical – and even life-saving – products can be quickly and safely transported across cities and to nearby regions in a fraction of the time of traditional ground delivery. It’s going to mean that people in some remote and isolated communities will be able to board regular or on-demand flights for the first time ever,” he adds.

“Plus, sustainable flight will play a significant role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions at a time when such measures are very much needed.”

We were pleased to see JR Hammond and CAAM representing Canada’s AAM interests – and solutions – on a global stage. (And, if this is your first introduction to AAM and CAAM, you can find out more in our primer here.)

All images, with the exception of JR Hammond on the panel, courtesy of Dubai Airshow.

Elroy Air’s Chaparral brings long-range, heavy lift cargo solution

Elroy Air’s Chaparral brings long-range, heavy lift cargo solution

By Scott Simmie


Some history has just been made in the world of Advanced Air Mobility (AAM).

On November 12, Elroy Air successfully flew its Chaparral C1 – the first flight of a turbogenerator-hybrid electric vertical take-off and landing (hVTOL) aircraft. The hover test of the full-scale aircraft took place at the company’s test-flight facility in Byron, California.

It’s an important milestone as the world moves toward the AAM era, when new and transformative aircraft will move goods and people to destinations that would have been impractical or too expensive using traditional aircraft.

“This is an exhilarating day for our team and the industry as a whole,” says Elroy Air co-founder and CEO Dave Merrill.

There are plenty of companies competing for this new space with innovative autonomous designs. Some are designed to carry people, cargo, or both. There are several excellent designs out there, but Elroy Air’s Chaparral C1 has been on our radar for reasons you’re about to discover.

Before we get into the history, though, let’s get straight to the news. Here’s a video of the test flight:



Check out the Chaparral C1 on the ground. Take a good look, as we’ll be discussing these features.

Elroy Air Chaparral AAM



Let’s get into why this aircraft will fill a niche.

It’s been designed to move large payloads long distances – and do so efficiently. Humanitarian aid, military resupply and middle-mile logistics are all perfect use-cases for the Chaparral. Its sole purpose is to move significant amounts of cargo efficiently – and be ready for the return trip in minutes.

Here’s the one-floor elevator pitch:

“We’re building an aircraft that will be able to fly 300 miles (483 km) and carry 300 pounds (136 kg) of cargo,” explains Jason Chow, the company’s Director of Strategy and Business Development.

“It’s VTOL, so we don’t need runways. It’s also hybrid electric, so in many situations where there are remote areas, we’re still able to fly where electric power is unavailable.”

Hybrid electric makes sense when you’re after this kind of range, since the craft benefits from the energy density of jet fuel.

“A turboshaft engine powers the batteries, and the batteries power flight,” says Chow.

“One of the most intensive parts of flight is the takeoff portion, where you’re vertically flying upwards. And once you get into forward flight, the turbine is able to throttle back to meet the reduced demand while maintaining battery charge.”

As you can see from the photo, there are eight motors for vertical lift and four for forward propulsion. Once the craft transitions into forward flight, its fixed-wing design brings greater efficiency and range than would be possible with a traditional multi-rotor (which don’t generally have lifting surfaces aside from the rotors themselves).

But while all this looks great, Chaparral’s real secret sauce is its cargo capabilities – which have been designed, literally, from the ground up.

Take a look again at the photo above. Note the design of the wheel struts, as well as the ample space between the bottom of the fuselage and the ground. That’s all for a very specific reason: Chaparral has been designed to carry an aerodynamic, quickly-swappable cargo pod.

Have a look:


Elroy Air Chaparral AAM



Chow says the system is comparable to a tractor-trailer. On a road, the tractor provides the power to move the goods. In the air, “the trailer is the equivalent of the cargo pod. We imagine customers will have multiple cargo pods.”

Those pods can be quickly interchanged on the ground – because the Chaparral’s autonomy abilities aren’t limited to flight. The aircraft can taxi to a predetermined location, lower and disengage a cargo pod, then reposition itself and pick up the next one. You can imagine the advantage of such a system when transporting food or critical medical supplies in an emergency situation. This isn’t simply an aircraft: It’s a delivery system.

It’s also worth noting that the pod has been designed to be compatible with existing infrastructure and tools such as forklifts. As the Elroy Air website explains:

The Palletized Pod uses a fairing-on-pallet design to ease loading of heavy cargo. This configuration features a standardized L-Track system for securing shipments, ensuring simple loading and safe travel for hefty items.”

Below: The Chaparral C1 with the pod snugged up and ready for business…

Elroy Air Chaparral AAM



So, will Elroy Air be a service provider, overseeing autonomous flights for clients? Or will it be producing the Chaparral to be sold to clients who will operate it themselves?

“The current thinking is that we would do both,” explains Chow. “There are a lot of our partners that are very good at operating aircraft: FedEx, Bristow, the United States Air Force. The main thing they do is operate aircraft really well. So in those situations we would sell to them only as the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer).”

“But we also have customers who are interested in what we can provide. So in those situations we could provide the service ourselves or rely on very experienced operators.”

Elroy Air Chaparral Test Flight



Producing an aircraft of this scale – it has a wingspan of 26.3 feet (8.01 metres) and a length of 19.3 feet (5.88 metres) – is no small task. Elroy Air made the decision early on that the most efficient approach would be as a highly selective and meticulous integrator. So its composite fuselage, for example, is outsourced.

“There are folks in the general Advanced Air Mobility industry that are building everything in-house. That’s great, you can own the IP (Intellectual Property) for everything,” says Chow.

“That being said, it takes longer. So our approach has been to be an integrator. We source the best parts to help us get to market – including the generator.”

Elroy Air Chaparral Test Flight



There are a lot of startups in this space, including plenty of newcomers. Elroy Air was formed back in 2016 in San Francisco by Dave Merrill (now CEO) and Clint Cope (Chief Product Officer).

By 2018 the company flight-tested sub-scale Chaparral aircraft and user-tested its automated cargo‑handling systems. The following year it had established a relationship (and contract) with the United States Air Force “enabling Elroy Air to understand and inform the USAF’s operational needs for distributed aerial logistics in contested environments. We developed our custom simulation environment for Chaparral aircraft and ran a successful flight test campaign on an early 1200‑pound, full-scale Chaparral prototype outfitted with an all-electric powertrain.”

The milestones have kept coming. The year 2020 brought refinements to its simulation system, allowing the team to carry out thousands of virtual flights and ground/cargo mission experiments. Development began in earnest that same year on the hybrid-electric powertrain, including multiple turboshaft engine runs.

A Series A financing in 2021 brought in partners Lockheed Martin, Prosperity7 and Marlinspike, who came to the table with $40M. In 2022 an additional $36M in capital arrived, and the company unveiled its C1-1 Chaparral to the public. (The aircraft also made it to the cover of Aviation Week.)

It’s been a careful, methodical journey that has brought the company this far – and it clearly has ambitious plans for the future. If you’d like to read about these milestones in greater detail, you’ll find a company timeline here

But the biggest milestone so far? The flight that opened this story.

“This marks a major moment for the industry as hybrid-electric aircraft enable the dual benefits of runway-independent safe redundant propulsion, and long-range flight well in excess of battery power alone,” says co-founder and CEO Dave Merrill. 

“Our accomplishment puts Elroy Air one step closer to delivering a transformative logistics capability to our customers and partners.”

Elroy Air Chaparral Test Flight



We at InDro obviously have a stake in the future of Advanced Air Mobility. We know from our own work in this field of the pent-up demand for efficient VTOL aircraft that can safely shuttle critical cargo – whether across major cities or to isolated communities lacking runways.

We’ve also been watching, with interest, the companies that are vying for space in this coming market.

“From everything we’ve seen, Chaparral is going to be a perfect fit,” says InDro Robotics President Philip Reece. “It’s cargo capacity and range will really fill a void, and the pod system – complete with its autonomous coupling and decoupling feature – will be hugely advantageous. We congratulate Elroy Air on this milestone, and look forward to seeing a transition flight before long.”

As with all new aircraft, it will take time before certification takes place and the FAA gives Elroy Air its full blessings. We’re confident that not only will that day come – but that Elroy Air and Chaparral will play a significant role in the era of Advanced Air Mobility.

All images supplied with permission by Elroy Air

BC’s Helijet announces purchase of eVTOL in Advanced Air Mobility milestone

BC’s Helijet announces purchase of eVTOL in Advanced Air Mobility milestone

By Scott Simmie


Canada has just taken a major step forward into the coming world of Advanced Air Mobility, or AAM.

Vancouver-based Helijet International, Inc. has announced the purchase of an eVTOL aircraft for crewed operations in British Columbia. The ALIA 250 eVTOL (electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing) is manufactured by US-based BETA Technologies and will bring a critical step toward sustainable passenger flight to Helijet, as well as service to additional locations.

The announcement took place at Helijet’s facility in Vancouver on October 31 and was attended by BC Premier David Eby, Helijet CEO Danny Sitnam, BETA’s Skye Carapetyan, as well as JR Hammond, the Executive Director of the Canadian Advanced Air Mobility Consortium (CAAM). Indro Robotics CEO Philip Reece was also there for the announcement, as InDro is an Industry Partner in CAAM and has partnered with Helijet on other AAM initiatives (more on that later).

“This provincial government recognizes the potential of advanced air mobility to decarbonize the aviation sector, improve regional connectivity, improve emergency response times and introduce new manufacturing opportunities in our province,” said Premier Eby. “We congratulate Helijet on their exciting news and look forward to British Columbia becoming a leader in the Advanced Air Mobility sector.”

Though the aircraft is not yet certified, flight testing in the US is well underway. BETA intends to certify the aircraft for Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) operations. Eventually, the aircraft will supplement the existing Helijet fleet – offering additional services to locations where the higher cost of traditional helicopter operations have traditionally made flights impractical.

“The introduction of eVTOL aircraft will not only enhance the passenger experience but also elevate Helijet’s capacity to provide essential services such as emergency response, air ambulance, and organ transfers,” says a news release issued by CAAM.

“This innovation is a crucial step forward in enhancing the overall well-being of communities in the Lower Mainland and remote regions.”

As an example of how the new eVTOL will help, Helijet CEO Danny Sitnam looked ahead to urgent medical deliveries between Vancouver hospitals “at a much lower cost, with no carbon footprint, and a quieter environment for the people below.”

Before we dive in, here’s a look at the aircraft. And while this graphic was created for the news release, don’t worry – the BETA ALIA 250 is very much a real machine.


Helijet BETA AAM



You’ve perhaps heard of Advanced Air Mobility. If you haven’t, here’s a little primer.

You can think of AAM as the next evolution in air transport. We like this high-level definition from BAE Systems:

“Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) is an air transport system concept that integrates new, transformational aircraft designs and flight technologies into existing and modified airspace operations.”

Those new innovative aircraft designs will have a low carbon footprint, and generally fall within these three design categories:

  • Electric Vertical Take-off and Landing (eVTOL). You can think here of air taxis, patient transfers, cross-town trips in dense urban areas, and more. These machines will take off and land from Vertiports, which have a small footprint advantageous to urban centres
  • Electric Conventional Take-Off & Landing (eCTOL). These would be electrified or hybrid fixed-wing aircraft that still require runways but are more efficient to operate (and much greener) than conventional aircraft. Likely used for short trips, carrying passengers and cargo from regional and rural locations.
  • Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS). You can think here of drones, or Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). These will be commonplace delivering critical goods and medical supplies, both within urban centres and to nearby communities. They will share controlled airspace with other traditional aircraft, though their operations will likely be restricted to designated flight corridors to avoid any conflict.

Initially, the transition to the world of AAM will involve crewed aircraft in the eVTOL and eCTOL space. In other words, there will be a human being piloting those aircraft. As the system and technologies advance, however, automation will take on a greater role, Pilots will be on board monitoring those autonomous flights, until a stage is reached where the flights are fully autonomous.

That’s a ways down the road. But the gears of this machinery are very much in motion. The FAA already has a blueprint for AAM and flight corridors. A large number of companies are working on new and innovative aircraft designs utilising electric, hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell propulsion. And the Canadian Advanced Air Mobility Consortium (CAAM) is working closely with regulators and the industry to advance the transition.

Speaking of CAAM, we also like its AAM definition:

“Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) is the evolution of air transportation created by an ecosystem of new technologies allowing people, goods, and services to move within urban and regional areas safely.”

And let’s not forget about the low carbon footprint. That’s also a big part of this revolution. Canada (and many other countries) have committed to Net Zero carbon emissions by the year 2050. That means our economy is expected to achieve that goal either by switching to technologies that emit no greenhouse gas emissions – or activities that offset those emissions (such as tree planting).

And while long-range passenger jets pose a greater technological challenge when it comes to electrification or hybrid power sources, there’s a lot of air traffic in urban areas. Plus, the use of green aircraft for goods delivery reduces the reliance on internal combustion-based ground vehicles. InDro Robotics, for example, has flown COVID test supplies from remote island communities by drone, as well as prescription medications to isolated communities. These deliveries would have traditionally relied on ground transport and ferries.

If you’re interested in learning more about AAM, we’ve written a pretty extensive primer here.

Now let’s get back to Helijet.

Below: The BETA ALIA 250 in a hover test:




BETA is building two aircraft: The eVTOL purchased by Helijet, as well as a cTOL – an electric, fixed-wing aircraft that requires a runway. Both employ a patented electric propulsion system and utilise batteries with a high energy density. They also each have a wingspan of just over 15 metres (50 feet) and can carry five passengers (or equivalent cargo) plus a pilot.

BETA started with a small but highly committed team. In less than 10 months, its first full-scale prototype, AVA, went from the drawing board to crewed test flights. Since then, BETA has grown considerably and received significant investment. In 2019, it began work on the ALIA aircraft. The company says its design was inspired by the Arctic Tern; engineers say biomimicry played a role in the design of the aircraft’s wings and long sweeping tail.

While BETA partnered with many suppliers for components of the aircraft, the company developed its own proprietary electric motor (no small feat). In 2021, ALIA flew its maiden crewed flight.

It wasn’t long before the design started catching the attention of others. UPS ordered 10 ALIA aircraft – and reserved 140 more. The US Air Force was impressed enough that it issued a special Military Flight Release. This allowed the company to carry out experimental flights with the Air Force. BETA also closed a $368M Series A funding round; Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund was one of the investors. So the company has been on an impressive trajectory.

The company builds its own charging cubes, which will be installed much like Tesla chargers. In fact, the ALIA cTOL flew 2400 miles (3840 km) over seven states in 2022, with the longest leg just shy of 300 miles (480 km). It stopped to charge on the company’s own infrastructure charging network. Down the road, you can picture some of these charging cubes at destinations the eVTOL will serve for Helijet. Those destinations won’t require runways or traditional aviation fuel.

Below: An ALIA cTOL gets some juice from the BETA charging cube:







The BETA ALIA eVTOL won’t be making its appearance with Helijet next week, next month – or even next year. There’s still the lengthy certification process to go before the aircraft can be put into commercial use.

But the announcement is still highly significant. It signals a commitment on the part of Helijet, CAAM, and the Government of British Columbia toward a low-carbon AAM world. It will open the door to servicing communities that currently do not have an affordable option for air transportation or deliveries.

And, according to BC Premier Eby, it’s a perfect fit for the province.

“British Columbia – we’re a quiet champion when it comes to the aerospace industry. One of Kelowna’s biggest employers, KF Aerospace, is obviously in the industry. We also have Cascade Aerospace out in Abbotsford – the biggest employer in the valley. And we have companies like InDro Robotics – and the CEO is here today – using large drones to deliver to remote and rural First Nations Communities out of Vancouver.”

And while Helijet’s new purchase won’t be in service for the immediate future – it’s definitely going to happen. And that’s a very big deal.

“We will soon gather again to celebrate the inaugural flight of the ALIA 250 eVTOL aircraft with Helijet,” said JR Hammond, Executive Director of CAAM. “And that day will make another historic milestone on our journey towards an interconnected aviation ecosystem.” 

Helijet started 37 years ago with a single helicopter and a handful of employees; it’s now North America’s largest scheduled helicopter airline. Company President and CEO Danny Sitman says this is a natural evolution.

“We were disrupting aviation 37 years ago…Today marks another significant milestone, not just for us but for all British Columbians… We have made a firm order for four aircraft at this time, with an option for four more. It’s an exciting time for aviation right now.”

And it is.

Below: The BETA ALIA cTOL in flight




InDro Robotics has a vested interest in the coming world of Advanced Air Mobility. We have carried out multiple missions, pilot projects and research tests related to this next phase in aviation. In fact, one of them has been in conjunction with Helijet.

InDro recently flew from Helijet’s Vancouver Harbour facility, piloting our drone through a flight corridor designed to virtually eliminate any potential conflict with crewed aviation – while still flying in a dense urban centre with regular air traffic.

We also used that flight to map the strength of 5G cellular signals at different altitudes – data that will be useful in the coming AAM world of automated BVLOS drone flights. We have also long been committed to sustainable, low-carbon footprint technologies.

“We’re pleased to see Helijet take the lead by committing to a sustainable, passenger-carrying eVTOL,” says InDro Robotics CEO Philip Reece. “We are truly on the cusp of a transformative phase in aviation, and we applaud Helijet, CAAM and BETA on today’s important announcement. I look forward to a flight in the ALIA when it enters service here in BC.”

FAA releases airspace blueprint for Urban Air Mobility

FAA releases airspace blueprint for Urban Air Mobility

By Scott Simmie


If you’re involved in the world of drones or traditional aviation, odds are you’ve heard of air taxis, cargo drones and the coming world of Advanced Air Mobility, or AAM.

But what does that mean? And how will it differ from our current skies?

To get started, it’s worth looking at a definition of AAM. We like this one from BAE Systems:

“Advanced Air Mobility is an air transport system concept that integrates new, transformational aircraft designs and flight technologies into existing and modified airspace operations. The objective of AAM is to move people and cargo between places more effectively, especially in currently underserved local, regional, urban, and rural environments.”

And these transformational aircraft designs? Well, they include air taxis and heavy-lift drones capable of efficiently moving people, goods and critical supplies from major urban centres to nearby regions. Many of these destinations – certainly initially – are likely to be close to major urban centres but not have traditional airports. Often, those underserved areas have never had enough traditional air traffic demand to support the required infrastructure. Plus, it doesn’t really make sense to fly a plane over a very short distance.

The coming generation of new aircraft, for the most part, will not require runways and will be more environmentally friendly than ground transport. Most of the aircraft under development are electric and capable of vertical takeoff and landing – often transitioning to more efficient fixed-wing flight for the journey. And that means minimal infrastructure will be required. Think helicopter landing pads.

Sustainable electric or hybrid-powered flight, along with the promise of autonomous missions that can efficiently ferry goods through the sky while reducing road congestion, are among the key benefits of AAM.

Below: Volkswagen is just one of many companies developing new types of aircraft for the coming world of Advanced Air Mobility. Some firms are actively testing.

Urban Air Mobility



The drone and aviation world loves its acronyms. And one that goes hand-in-hand with AAM is UAM – Urban Air Mobility.

UAM refers to the use of Advanced Air Mobility technologies in a strictly urban setting. Picture a major city where you can hail an air taxi to a landing pad, also known as a vertiport, with a phone app. Or where goods are routinely shuttled by drone or other new aircraft across urban skies. That’s what Urban Air Mobility refers to. Think of it as a subset of AAM.

But while UAM offers unique efficiencies and a reduction in ground traffic, it also comes with greater risk than flying goods to regional areas. That’s because these aircraft will be flying over property and people for the entire duration of their missions.

They’ll also be flying at lower altitudes than traditional crewed aircraft, and – eventually – in greater numbers. So regulators are interested in helping to shape the coming UAM (and AAM) eras to ensure a safe system that seamlessly meshes these new aircraft with existing airspace.




In early May, the Federal Aviation Administration – the US regulator – released an updated blueprint of how it envisions AAM will unfold. The Concept of Operation (ConOps) document outlines what procedural changes might help ensure a slow, safe and smooth transition into the coming era.

Transportation is constantly evolving,” it states. “Each step forward yields new opportunities that fundamentally change the relationship that humankind has with distance and travel. While it may not significantly reduce surface traffic volume, UAM will provide an alternative mode of transportation that should reduce traffic congestion during peak times.”

And the driving force behind all of this? Technology.

“Major aircraft innovations, mainly with the advancement of Distributed Electric Propulsion (DEP) and development of Electric VTOLs (eVTOLs), may allow for these operations to be utilized more frequently and in more locations than are currently performed by conventional aircraft,” says the regulator.

We’ll dive a little deeper in a moment. But the FAA says – in addition to certifying aircraft and pilots – that the blueprint is a “key step” in efforts to move safely toward this next phase of aviation. The blueprint should be of interest to everyone in the industry – particularly those who have plans for moving people and cargo by this next generation of aircraft. The FAA describes the blueprint as a “frame of reference” for itself, NASA, and the industry.

Below: Might Vancouver’s skies one day include aircraft like the one pictured below? Odds are, yes.




So how will the US get from here…to there?

What guidelines or steps are needed to ensure a safe transition from now to then? The key, says the FAA, is to adopt a “crawl-walk-run approach.” In other words, start slowly – very slowly – and integrate these new aircraft in a highly methodical way while building on incremental successes.

“The envisioned evolution for UAM operations includes includes an initial, low-tempo set of operations that leverage the current regulatory frameworks and rules (e.g., Visual Flight Rules [VFR], Instrument Flight Rules [IFR]) as a platform for increasing operational tempo, greater aircraft performance, and higher levels of autonomy,” says the FAA.

That “low-tempo” means you won’t be hailing an autonomous air taxi anytime soon. In fact, when it comes to moving people and goods, fully autonomous aircraft are in the last stage of the FAA’s Concept of Operations.

Here’s a look at the three main phases the FAA has identified, taken directly from the blueprint:

  • Initial UAM operations are conducted using new aircraft that have been certified to fly within the current regulatory and operational environment.
  • A higher frequency (i.e., tempo) of UAM operations in the future is supported through regulatory evolution and UAM Corridors that leverage collaborative technologies and techniques.
  • New operational rules and infrastructure facilitate highly automated cooperative flow management in defined Cooperative Areas (CAs), enabling remotely piloted and autonomous aircraft to safely operate at increased operational tempos.

Below: An EHang EH216 carries out a passenger-carrying, autonomous flight in Oita Prefecture, Japan. The company has already logged 30,000 safe flights and is in the certification process with the Civial Aviation Administration of China. Image via EHang. 

EHang 216



The FAA document focuses on air taxis – eVTOLs capable of carrying either people or cargo. And, in line with its “crawl-walk-run” approach, envisions a phased integration of these vehicles into US airspace.

All aircraft would be need to be certified. And initially, the Pilot-in-Command would need to be onboard and manually flying the aircraft using Visual Flight Rules (VFR) and Instrument Flight Rules (IFR). Pilots would communicate with Air Traffic Services, which would be responsible for ensuring adequate separation with traditional aircraft.

The ConOps document also envisions corridors – three-dimensional freeways in the sky that would be set aside for air taxi traffic. These corridors would at first be one-way only, though that would likely change in future.

In the early phases, the FAA believes existing helipads or other current infrastructure would be adequate. But it encourages planners and municipalities to use the best available data and forecasts when determining where to build vertiports.

“State and local governments are being encouraged to actively plan for UAM infrastructure to ensure transportation equity, market choice, and accommodation of demand for their communities,” says the document.

“The vertiports and vertistops should be sited to ensure proper room for growth based on FAA evaluated forecasts and be properly linked to surface transportation (when possible), especially if the facility primarily supports cargo operations. Local governments should also have zoning protections in place to protect airspace in and around vertiports and vertistops.”

As demand – and technology – advance, the FAA foresees traffic management becoming more automated. Data-sharing and detect-and-avoid technology would likely enable the eventual rollout of fully autonomous flights. In that scenario, these machines would operate under what the FAA calls “Automated Flight Rules” – or AFRs.

It’s all part of an evolution that would see the gradual implementation of automation, with people playing less active roles over time. Initially, the FAA says, there would always be a Human-Within-the-Loop (HWTL) – meaning a pilot. That would evolve to a person having supervisory control of automation, known as a Human-on-the-Loop (HOTL).

In a fully mature system, people would simply be notified by automation if action is required. This is referred to as Human-Over-The-Loop (HOVTL), defined by the FAA as follows:


  • Human is informed, or engaged, by the automation (i.e., systems) to take action
  • Human passively monitors the systems and is informed by automation if, and what, action is required
  • Human is engaged by the automation either for exceptions that are not reconcilable or as part of rule set escalation

“UAM operations may evolve from a PIC onboard the UAM aircraft to RPICs/remote operators via the advent of additional aircraft automation technologies,” states the blueprint.

The following FAA graphic indicates the predicted evolution of the UAM operational environment:

FAA UAM evolution



There’s much more to the FAA document, and we encourage those interested to explore it here. But the key point is a slow and measured integration of these new transformational aircraft with an emphasis on safety and human oversight within existing regulations. As technology and data-sharing improve, this will evolve to a more automated/autonomous system with humans involved only if they are flagged to intervene. New regulations will likely evolve as the technology continues to develop.

The FAA released a brief video in conjunction with its blueprint, which hits some of the highlights discussed in this post:



Like many, we see the great potential in the coming Advanced Air Mobility/Urban Air Mobility era. Certified aircraft safely moving people and goods will be faster, more efficient and more sustainable than current ground travel. It could also be a boon to people living in communities currently not served by traditional aircraft.

“We see particular utility for remote and cut-off communities in need of critical goods,” says InDro CEO Philip Reece.

“We always use the crawl-walk-run model when deploying our own new technologies, and believe this incremental approach is the best way to ensure safety and public acceptance. We anticipate Canadian regulators, working with industry and the Canadian Advanced Air Mobility Consortium, will be taking a similar approach.”

The new FAA blueprint, though it’s a ConOps document and not carved in stone, does leave us feeling that plans are starting to take shape. We look forward to the slow, steady and successful integration of UAM/AAM in the US, Canada and elsewhere.

If you’d like to do some further reading on AAM – and what’s happening on the Canadian scene – you’ll find that here.

Volkswagen reveals passenger-carrying eVTOL

Volkswagen reveals passenger-carrying eVTOL

Volkswagen is entering the Urban Air Mobility world.

The company’s China division has unveiled it has been working on a passenger-carrying e-VTOL – and says it plans to commercialise it down the road. The prototype is called V.MO and is part of Volkswagen China’s Vertical Mobility project.

“Through this pilot project, we are bringing Volkswagen’s long tradition of precision engineering, design, and innovation to the next level, by developing a premium product that will serve the vertical mobility needs of our future tech savvy Chinese customers,” said Dr. Stephan Wöllenstein, CEO of Volkswagen Group China.

“This is a pioneering project which our young team of Chinese experts started from scratch – they are working with new design concepts and materials while developing new safety standards, disrupting and innovating every step of the way. Our long-term aim is to industrialize this concept and, like a ‘Flying Tiger’, break new ground in this emerging and fast-evolving new mobility market.”

The ‘Flying Tiger’ nickname refers to the prototype’s gold and black livery – which you’ll see in the photo below. We’ve added a second image with people for scale.


Volkswagen eVTOL
Volkswagen eVTOL
As you can see, lift comes from eight motors, four on each of the twin booms. Forward thrust comes from two motors. Length of the prototype is 11.2m with a span of 10.6m, so you won’t be landing this in your driveway. Presumably, the commercial version will take off and land from something like a heliport, offering passengers the option to quickly cross a congested city or head to a nearby destination.

“In its final future iteration, the fully electric and automated eVTOL could eventually carry four passengers plus luggage over a distance of up to 200km,” states a Volkswagen news release on the project.

This first prototype appears to be built for unmanned testing and validation. The company says several test flights of V.MO will take place later this year, with plans for an improved prototype to be flying in the summer of 2023.

And what might it look like? Well, probably something like this animation:

Though Volkswagen has plenty of engineering expertise on the ground, making something that flies isn’t really in its wheelhouse. That’s why the company has partnered with Hunan Sunward Technology, a manufacturer of light aircraft and drones.

The press release announcing the prototype made it clear that Volkswagen sees vast potential in Urban Air Mobility and products like these.

“Urban air mobility is a fast-emerging market which aims to utilize air space for short- and medium-distance connections, especially above and between large cities,” it states. “In China, it is set to play a significant role in the future of urban and intercity transportation in its congested megacities. In the first phase of its commercial use, V.MO is likely to be pitched as a premium product for high-net worth tech savvy Chinese customers, for example for VIP air shuttle services. eVTOL air vehicles will be able to transport passengers more quickly and efficiently than current conventional means of terrestrial transport and with greater flexibility. As the Vertical Mobility project develops, Volkswagen Group China will work with the relevant Chinese authorities to achieve certification.”

With the announcement, Volkswagen becomes the latest automotive player to stake a claim in this sector. Honda, Toyota, Aston Martin and others have announced they’re entering the space and have displayed concepts, prototypes or renders of their plans. Hyundai unveiled this Uber Air taxi concept a couple of years back:

Still some hurdles


Will we be seeing these vehicles – in real life – in the years to come?

The answer is yes, but there are still challenges that must be overcome. Urban Air Mobility envisions a future where eVTOLs will transit congested urban centres, whisking passengers who will likely summon these aircraft using mobile apps to nearby take-off and landing sites. UAM will also bring the option of convenient flight traffic between nearby cities where one or both do not have the infrastructure or demand to support traditional fixed-wing aircraft. Plus, the ability to deliver people or goods to central locations in a large city offers a convenience that eludes most traditional airports.

But getting there will take some time. These eVTOLs will face rigid certification, and require a robust Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) system/network to ensure there’s no conflict with drones or other forms of aviation. Work on those fronts is underway. In fact, the White House even held a special summit on the topic August 3. The goal of that gathering was to explore “the future of aviation in America and the regulatory strategy towards responsible and equitable adoption of these technologies.”

It’s clearly firmly on the radar of regulators.

Multiple designs, including single-person eVTOLs


There are many different companies vying for a piece of this territory. Perhaps the one with the greatest advantage is China’s eHang, which produces one- and two-passenger autonomous vehicles that have carried out a growing number of autonomous flights carrying people. The company is also apparently at work on a two-passenger, fixed-wing eVTOL for longer-range flights.

The company has already carried out autonomous tourism flights and appears to have a spotless safety record.

Personal eVTOLs


In the Urban Air Mobility world, there are greater efficiencies with aircraft capable of carrying multiple passengers (or heavier cargo loads). But some manufacturers are targeting the single-occupant market. Specifically, they’re building products for people who would like to not only pilot these aircraft, but own them.

The leader on this front appears to be Swedish company Jetson, which manufactures a single-person eVTOL that is flown by the pilot. The Jetson One costs $92,000 US and is in production. It’s unclear how many the company will produce annually, but it has received enough orders that Jetson is completely sold out for 2022 and now taking orders to be shipped in 2023.

We can’t resist dropping in another video, because this actually does look like fun.


And finally…a Canadian connection


We’d be remiss if we didn’t point out another very unique company in this space. It’s called Opener, and its vehicle is the BlackFly. It’s a very intriguing design that was the brainchild of a retired Canadian engineer with a fancy for flight. That engineer is Marcus Leng.

He first developed the concept for the amphibious vehicle (yes, it can land on and take-off from water) in 2009. In 2011, he flew the first proof-of-concept prototype from his front yard in Warkworth, Ontario.

Since then? Well, the company has carried out more than 4,300 flights, covering more than 56,000 kilometres. It has flown manned demo flights at the big airshow in Oshkosh, and is about to release the product for sale.

The cost? There’s not a definitive figure yet, but the company promises it will be about the cost of an SUV. It qualifies in the ultralight category, meaning owners won’t require a private pilot’s license.

And yes, we’re pretty intrigued by this. Kudos, Marcus Leng. Oh – and this video? It’s from back in 2018, so we can only imagine what refinements have been made since then.

InDro’s Take


As we know from our extensive work in the aerial and ground robotics worlds, technology continues to rapidly advance. That translates into better components, flight controllers, battery efficiency, simulations – and, ultimately, reliability and safety.

There is still a ways to go, as mentioned, on the certification and UTM front for many of the multi-passenger vehicles under development. But we do see such aircraft taking hold in the future – offering new and more sustainable options for the delivery of goods and people over short distances.

If you’re interested in this field, we highly recommend you check out the Canadian Advanced Air Mobility Consortium. The organization already has some 70 members (including InDro Robotics) who are working collaboratively to help shape the future and work with regulators. Advanced Air Mobility/Urban Air Mobility promises a future of exciting possibilities that will benefit both passengers and communities, particularly since many of these aircraft can be used to deliver critical goods and supplies on-demand and autonomously.

It’s a future we look forward to – and it’s definitely on the horizon.