Avionics Digital Edition

Electric Avionics

In 2017, when I first started covering Uber’s Elevate division and its plan to make electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) air taxis a reality by the early to mid-2020s, the industry viewed Uber’s timeline with disbelief. Almost any engineer, pilot or executive I talked to outside of Uber or manufacturers developing such vehicles would either say this is something that will probably never happen or, if it did, not until the 2040s.

Since then, it has been arguably the fastest-moving segment of commercial aviation. At the the Vertical Flight Society's sixth annual eVTOL symposium in January, the organization reported that there are now nearly 150 hybrid eVTOL programs operating globally. That’s up from the 70 different eVTOL programs they were tracking around this time last year.

One of the questions I continually ask: What will the cockpits of eVTOLs look like? Nearly every eVTOL program has kept that aspect of their project under wraps, but more information on who will supply avionics to who has started coming into focus. In October, Bell selected Thales to provide its on-demand flight controls and Garmin to supply the vehicle management computer systems on its Nexus eVTOL prototype that was unveiled at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show. The same month Bell unveiled its Nexus design, Honeywell Aerospace announced a new partnership to supply the avionics for Pipistrel’s eVTOL design. Meanwhile, Volocopter is evaluating the integration of its own air taxi into Singapore’s air traffic system with flight testing set to begin later this year.

In this issue, we go even deeper into future avionics development for electric air taxis, discussing what type of digital convergence and embedded processing architectures could support these designs in the future with Mercury Systems. We also have an exclusive interview with the head of the newly-restructured avionics division of Collins Aerospace, following UTC’s historic acquisition of Rockwell Collins. Finally, we also give an in-the-cockpit view of the world’s first deployment of radius to fix helicopter approaches.

I also hope to see some of our readers at the Aerospace Technology Week event in Munich, Germany where these and other hot aviation electronics will be on display and in discussion.