Textron eAviation’s Nexus eVTOL Aircraft Could Fly in 2025

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Textron eAviation’s Nexus eVTOL Aircraft Could Fly in 2025

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The company’s Nuuva cargo drone is approaching its first flights, too

The Nexus eVTOL aircraft is coming together at Textron eAviation’s Wichita headquarters as the company prepares to begin flight testing its hybrid-electric Nuuva V300 cargo drone.

Having certified the world’s first all-electric trainer airplane, the Velis Electro, the Textron Inc. business unit is working to solidify its foothold in the electric aviation industry, building on the company’s decades of experience in aircraft development and manufacturing.

Textron Inc. launched the eAviation business unit in 2022, the same year it acquired Pipistrel, the European aircraft manufacturer behind the Velis Electro. Shortly afterward, the eAviation unit took over the Nexus program from Textron’s Bell subsidiary, which had been working on plans for the eVTOL air taxi since 2019. Following a rocky start to the Nexus program under Bell, Textron’s eAviation subsidiary has hit the ground running and aims to begin flight testing in 2025.

“We really have been focused on various aspects of engineering it over the past two years and validating that engineering, and we’ve moved into the build process,” Textron eAviation president and CEO Kriya Shortt told reporters in a briefing at the company’s headquarters on May 1. “This is a pivotal year for us because pieces are starting to come together,” she said, adding that the team is in the process of mating the aircraft’s wing with the fuselage.

The Nexus is an all-electric, piloted eVTOL aircraft with room for three or four passengers. It is designed to fly around 100 nautical miles on a single charge with a cruise speed of 120 knots. Textron eAviation sees the Nexus working for a variety of use cases, including urban air mobility, emergency medical services, humanitarian aid, law enforcement, and special missions.

While Textron eAviation is overseeing the development work, the Nexus project represents a collaborative effort across the various business units of Textron Inc. “We lean into Bell for their tiltrotor technology, we lean into McCauley for its propeller technology, [and] we lean into Pipistrel for its battery technology,” Shortt said. “The aircraft is being built with our engineering, but the piece-part components are largely done through a collaboration with Textron Aviation,” she added. “We send our materials over and then Textron Aviation’s people are able to build the parts for us.”

NIAR Breaks Ground on eVTOL Testing Facility 

Flight testing with the Nexus prototype is expected to begin in early 2025 and will take place at a flight test facility that Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) is building near McConnell Air Force Base in southern Wichita.

NIAR, which has recently participated in battery drop tests with electric aircraft developers such as Archer Aviation and Beta Technologies, announced on May 6 that it broke ground on a new flight test facility specifically dedicated to eVTOL aircraft. The new facility will include ground-based test rigs as well as a “hover ramp,” Shortt explained.

“It’s a controlled environment where our team will be able to validate the performance of the aircraft. They’ll be able to replicate a flight mode by the way that the ramp is built without wheels ever leaving the ground,” Shortt said. Once the team is satisfied with the hover ramp test results, it will move on to tethered hover flights.

Textron eAviation is also in the process of building a ground control station for the Nexus at a hangar in Wichita, which will enable remotely piloted flight testing of the fully fly-by-wire aircraft. This is purely for testing purposes, Shortt explained. “Even though it’s envisioned to be piloted, when we start flying it we will fly it in an unmanned configuration.”

Nuuva Prototype Slated To Fly This Year

While Textron eAviation prepares to begin flight testing the Nexus prototype in 2025, the company’s Pipistrel subsidiary is preparing to fly its first prototype of the Nuuva V300 cargo drone even sooner. The Pipistrel team is now assembling the first Nuuva V300 prototype in Gorizia, Italy, and the aircraft is on track to make its first test flight in the second half of this year, Shortt said.

The Nuuva V300 is a hybrid-electric, ultra-long-range eVTOL aircraft designed to carry around 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of cargo up to 300 kilometers. Pipistrel announced the Nuuva program in 2020 and announced that Honeywell would supply various systems, including its compact fly-by-wire flight controls and satcom system. Honeywell also supplies its Small UAV satcom system for Pipistrel’s Surveyor fixed-wing surveillance drone, which is already on the market.

Shortt said Textron is not yet ready to reveal an anticipated timeline for certification and service entry of the Nuuva V300 aircraft, and it is not taking orders from customers at this time.

When the Nuuva V300 enters service, it will meet the European Union Aviation Safety Agency’s SAIL IV (specific assurance and integrity) requirements for medium-risk uncrewed aircraft systems, meaning that it’s permitted to fly over populated areas without a formal type certificate. Operators in Europe would be required to obtain their own operational authorization from EASA after the regulator approves the aircraft separately via the issuance of a design verification report.

Eventually, Textron aims to progress to the more advanced SAIL VI operations, “which would be fully integrated into the airspace and operating with detect-and-avoid capabilities,” Shortt said. For SAIL VI operations, the aircraft will need to go through a formal type certification process under EASA’s Part 21 rules.

In addition to the V300, Textron intends to produce a smaller but otherwise nearly identical version called the V20. With a cargo capacity of about 20 kilograms (44 pounds), the V20 is intended for short light courier, last-mile delivery services.

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