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Thread: Experimental eVTOL innovation

  1. #1

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    Experimental eVTOL innovation

    I am looking for definitive answers on this. I have contacted the FAA and EAA with no response. I have also posted on social media to no avail. I'm posting this here in case anyone can answer or connect me to the right people to get a real answer on this...

    TL/DR;

    How do experimental builders and aviators get involved in eVTOL? Surely this is not reserved only for “taxi” services and commercial interest. What regulations allow for this today, versus future needed regulations?

    Full detail:

    With all the buzz about VTOL and eVTOL this past year, and the focus primarily being on the concept of “taxi” service (Cora.aero, Uber Elevate, etc), executive/business travel (Eviation, etc), and autonomous transport for non-pilots (Blackfly), it leaves me wondering... what about the rest of GA? What about the Experimental crowd?

    There seems to be a huge gap right now in eVTOL, leaving hobbyists and experimental builders completely in the dust.

    Perspective setting:

    As I see it, there are distinct scenarios where eVTOL is applicable, and not all scenarios require new regulations and complex technologies (such as collision avoidance, autonomy, managing safety in densely populated areas, etc).

    EAA members are mostly pilots. We are not trying to solve the need for taxi service in densely populated areas. We are happy to follow the current regulations already in place, and fly and land in the same places that gyro, STOL planes, and helicopters currently fly and land in. We therefore do NOT need complex collision avoidance or autonomy (highly complex, expensive, and time consuming to perfect) nor all the new regulations that obviously are needed there. That will indeed take time, and deep pockets with industry/commercial interests. But for experimental GA aviators and hobbyists, it means our only hurdle is simply the computerized multirotor stabilization; technology that is feasibly within reach.

    With that in mind, it opens the following questions:

    1. If I were to build a multi-rotor aircraft today and register it as EAB, what type would it be registered as? It's not a gyro, fixed wing, or even a helicopter or dual-rotor helicopter. It's flight systems and characteristics are entirely different.
    2. If I were to fly an experimental multi-rotor aircraft today, what type rating or endorsement would I need to fly it? Bearing in mind, it does not fly nor handle like a helicopter, the stabilization of which is computer controlled, so the kinds of training and regulation there don't seem to apply.


    I see no reason why a hobbyist or community of home builders today cannot do the following:

    • Design an aircraft capable of VTOL
    • Fly the aircraft as a certified pilot without the complexity of autonomy or new regulations for non-pilots
    • Take off, land and fly in the same places and airspace as currently already in place, as already regulated


    One might say that RC multi-rotor controllers are not suitable for manned flight. To which I would say I agree, but it sure sets the stage doesn't it? Those RC controllers were built as OPEN SOURCE projects, the community and citizenry literally brought this to the world and to the hobby, and arguably laid the foundation to inspire all those companies we now see applying the concepts to GA and manned eVTOL aircraft. As for the Experimental Aircraft hobbyists, I see no reason why these electronic multi-rotor controllers cannot continue to innovate as a community project with new goals in mind, such as redundancy and safety for manned flight. This is what I mean when I say eVTOL is "within reach" of experimental aircraft builders, not just deep pocketed commercial ventures.

    I would love to connect with the right people at EAA or FAA that are knowledgeable on topic and can provide insight.

    Experimental innovations in this area are completely stifled if we (the builders and pilots) do not know how our efforts (of building something with the intent to fly) will be allowed and governed in the end.
    Last edited by dapug; 09-04-2019 at 08:55 AM.

  2. #2
    EAA Staff Joda's Avatar
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    Sir,

    The answers to your questions are not yet apparent. This is a rapidly-evolving segment of aviation, and the FAA has not yet crafted specifics with regard to your questions. With that in mind, I offer you the following comments, which are only my opinions, based on my experiences working with the FAA as a DAR....

    Quote Originally Posted by dapug View Post
    If I were to build a multi-rotor aircraft today and register it as EAB, what type would it be registered as? It's not a gyro, fixed wing, or even a helicopter or dual-rotor helicopter. It's flight systems and characteristics are entirely different.
    Amateur-built aircraft (as well as other experimental purposes) are certificated as just that - aircraft. They are not necessarily categorized as airplanes, rotorcraft, etc. This is done purposely, so as to allow the very kind of innovation you are talking about. There is no real limit on the nature of your "experiment". However.......

    Quote Originally Posted by dapug View Post
    If I were to fly an experimental multi-rotor aircraft today, what type rating or endorsement would I need to fly it? Bearing in mind, it does not fly nor handle like a helicopter, the stabilization of which is computer controlled, so the kinds of training and regulation there don't seem to apply.
    The FAA looks at each experiment on its own merit, and will make decisions from the standpoint of protecting the non-flying public first and foremost, and then passengers in the aircraft itself. They will then issue operating limitations to the aircraft based on these safety concerns. To that end, they would need to decide what type of pilot training and credentials would best fit the situation, and will craft the operating limitations accordingly.

    Of course, there isn't a clear-cut pilot certificate that fits the aircraft you describe. The closest thing may well be "powered lift", which is the pilot certificate developed for the tilt-rotor type aircraft. That doesn't quite fit your described situation either, but neither does helicopter or fixed-wing airplane. Who knows, they may end up developing a completely separate pilot certification for these type of aircraft. It's just too early to tell.



    Quote Originally Posted by dapug View Post
    I see no reason why a hobbyist or community of home builders today cannot do the following:

    • Design an aircraft capable of VTOL
    • Fly the aircraft as a certified pilot without the complexity of autonomy or new regulations for non-pilots
    • Take off, land and fly in the same places and airspace as currently already in place, as already regulated


    Agreed. That's what experimental aviation is all about!



    Quote Originally Posted by dapug View Post
    I would love to connect with the right people at EAA or FAA that are knowledgeable on topic and can provide insight.
    Me too! As described above, it is just to early to be able to give answers to your questions. Frankly, it will likely take someone actually developing such an aircraft and presenting it to the FAA for certification in order to drive this process forward.

    Sorry I don't have more complete answers to your questions, but this is the current state of affairs. Stay tuned!
    Cheers!

    Joe

  3. #3

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    Thanks Joe. Very thoughtful comments.

    I'm admittedly interested in what can be done today versus after new regulations that could take years, or decades.

    In my case in particular, my primary focus is on an airplane that flys horizontally, intended to fly under the same rules as any aircraft and pilot with a PPL, but happens to land without a runway. I'm not really interested in straight-up "drone" style flying, but the fact that such flight characteristics are needed to land my plane VTOL... this has to be taken into account by FAA signing off on it.

    Here is one example of eVTOL (full on manned "drone"), happening right now. These guys seem a little ambitious, but they intend to do manned flight next year in California. I do wonder what analysis on this topic I have raised that they have done. Maybe their aircraft would technically be ready, but what about legalities?

    https://airspeeder.com/
    https://newatlas.com/airspeeder-mann...-racing/60385/
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  4. #4
    EAA Staff Joda's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dapug View Post
    Maybe their aircraft would technically be ready, but what about legalities?
    Again, anything is legal in the experimental world. The only question that has yet to be answered is, how will the FAA treat the aircraft when they issue the operating limitations. That we won't know until the aircraft is actually presented for certification. Only then will we know what the current state of affairs may be.

    As I said before... stay tuned!
    Cheers!

    Joe

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    Most are flying under FAR103. From my studies and queries there seems to be some confusion about whether the stall speed limit of FAR 103 applies or not.
    I didn't see any eVTOL flying at Airventure 2018 or Air Venture 2019.
    I think the SureFly may have had a Research and Development airworthiness certificate.
    To my knowledge, none in EA-B yet.

  6. #6

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    The marketing demographic of these multi-rotor 'personal' craft is pretty slim. They can't fly over crowded places, like cities or towns, and yet they cost SO much that it's only in major cities and towns that you'll find buyers with that much disposable income.

    For those fortunate enough to live where ultralights can fly? Giddy-Up. For me if nothing else it's interesting to watch this genre of flying machines slowly develop, though at 70 now, I doubt I'll see them become 'popular' or even functional in my lifetime.
    "Don't believe everything you see or read on the internet" - Abraham Lincoln

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Berson View Post
    Most are flying under FAR103.
    I have seen some, but those look like hobby toys. The only commercial vehicle I've seen that is NEAR ultralight is Blackfly, but they are actually over Part 103 weight, yet appear to have convinced the FAA to allow flight without a pilot cert, as long as they pass with WRITTEN exam for Private Pilot! That really surprised me.

    But I'm specifically interested in the application for EAB, especially because it's not possible to get a real aircraft of this type under UL weight (re: Blackfly, millions invested and still missed the mark). I personally am not interested in "manned drone", but rather, horizontal "fixed" wing flight with VTOL ability. Hence the current dilemma I outlined in the OP.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Berson View Post
    I think the SureFly may have had a Research and Development airworthiness certificate.
    To my knowledge, none in EA-B yet.
    Interesting. I'll have to look into this.

  8. #8
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    An interesting and thoughtful discussion. Developing an EAB VTOL aircraft is really pushing the envelope. It offers challenges both to you and the FAA. Fixed wing....are you thinking tilt wing or tilt rotor. Guess you could get really exotic and go with a lift fan. Hope you keep this thread alive with updates on your progress.
    Dave Shaw
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  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by dapug View Post
    But I'm specifically interested in the application for EAB, especially because it's not possible to get a real aircraft of this type under UL weight (re: Blackfly, millions invested and still missed the mark). I personally am not interested in "manned drone", but rather, horizontal "fixed" wing flight with VTOL ability. Hence the current dilemma I outlined in the OP.
    Dapug: YOU ARE EXACTLY THE PERSON WE NEED! (and I'm very serious about that.)

    Design it, Build it and Fly it as an EAB! There are no regulations stopping you!

    I know this is going to generate a whole bunch of terminology issues/arguments/dissention, but … I deal with OEMs, FAA (and foreign authorities), and Experimentals every day of my career. Ultralights are unregulated; LSA are (self-regulated) ASTM concensus standards; EAB are basically unregulated and NOT certificated; and only OEM products are certificated to part: 23, 25, 27, 29, etc. As an EAB you will be subjected to Operating Limitations that you and the FAA (FISDO) will work with you to agreement. NOTHING should stand in your way! In fact if you're looking for help on any of this, let me know. I will do everything I can to keep you going (I didn't say it would be easy). solutions@blueontop.com

    Ron "Keeping the Can Do Attitude of Paul Poberezny Alive" Blum

  10. #10

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    I too have been dreaming of building an experimental amateur built (EAB) eVTOL similar to the one described in the original post by dapug. I was especially glad for the clarification provided by Joda on the Experimental certification category. But the main stumbling block seemed to me to be the problem of category rating. 14 CFR 61 deals with certification of pilots, and it does list the various categories requiring category ratings. This list (61.5) includes “Power Lift”. 14 CFR 1.1 defines “Powered-Lift” as:

    Powered-lift means a heavier-than-air aircraft capable of vertical takeoff, vertical landing, and low speed flight that depends principally on engine-driven lift devices or engine thrust for lift during these flight regimes and on nonrotating airfoil(s) for lift during horizontal flight.

    I believe that this is exactly the aircraft referred to by dapug. But 61.31, which deals with “type rating requirements”, says
    (d) Aircraft category, class, and type ratings: Limitations on operating an aircraft as the pilot in command. To serve as the pilot in command of an aircraft, a person must—
    (1) Hold the appropriate category, class, and type rating (if a class or type rating is required) for the aircraft to be flown; or
    (2) Have received training required by this part that is appropriate to the pilot certification level, aircraft category, class, and type rating (if a class or type rating is required) for the aircraft to be flown, and have received an endorsement for solo flight in that aircraft from an authorized instructor.

    This section made me stop thinking about this project. It seemed too daunting to try to get a Powered-Lift category rating—I couldn’t exactly rent time in an Osprey! But this thread made me look a bit deeper, and I think there is a solution. 61.31(l) says:

    (l) Exceptions. (1) This section does not require a category and class rating for aircraft not type-certificated as airplanes, rotorcraft, gliders, lighter-than-air aircraft, powered-lifts, powered parachutes, or weight-shift-control aircraft.
    (2) The rating limitations of this section do not apply to—
    (i) An applicant when taking a practical test given by an examiner;
    (ii) The holder of a student pilot certificate;
    (iii) The holder of a pilot certificate when operating an aircraft under the authority of—
    (A) A provisional type certificate; or
    (B) An experimental certificate, unless the operation involves carrying a passenger;

    (1) seems to say that any non-type-certificated (i.e. experimental) aircraft does not require a category rating.
    (2) (iii) (B) reinforces this BUT adds the confusing “unless the operation involves carrying a passenger”. This seems to imply that at least some experimental power lift aircraft (two seaters) would require a category rating. The second paragraph seems to contradict the first.

    I would love to hear from someone more well-versed in aviation rules than I. At any rate, it seems that a single seat experimental powered lift aircraft would NOT require a Powered Lift category rating, and possibly a two-seater would be exempt as well.

    On a related note, I would love to join a discussion on the technical aspects of experimental Powered Lift aircraft. Are there forums either here in EAA or elsewhere dealing with batteries, motors, thrust, etc?

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