US start-up aerospace company Maglev Aero has revealed details about its development of a new breed of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft powered by a magnetically levitated, rotating fan.

During a 23 August webinar hosted by GE Additive, Maglev co-founder Roderick Randall discussed the new air-taxi concept, which he says would be substantially quieter and faster than other eVTOLs under development.

The concept is a four- to six-passenger winged aircraft propelled by a large, magnetically levitated fan spinning around the craft’s passenger cabin. Magnetic levitation involves the use of magnets to levitate objects, a technology long employed by train manufacturers to lift trains off tracks, reducing friction.

Maglev aero

Source: Maglev Aero

Maglev says its magnetic-levitation fan design could enable various aircraft configurations, including a conceptual winged air taxi with a forward cockpit and a passenger cabin positioned inside the spinning fan

“It is magnetically levitated as a propulsion system” and has “zero rolling friction”, Randall says of the design. His company disclosed the concept in June during the Paris air show.

The concept is only recently feasible thanks to aircraft-design-technology improvements and additive manufacturing (also called 3D printing) advancements, says Randall, noting that the method now allows for production of strong and light metallic parts.

GE Additive, a division of Ohio engine maker GE Aerospace, is supplying additive-manufactured components to Maglev for the project. Randall notes GE Aerospace has already achieved Federal Aviation Administration certification for 3D-printed turbofan parts. He does not disclose a timetable for development.

Maglev’s fan concept – which it calls a “HyperDrive” – would have multiple blades and a system allowing for “individual blade pitch controls”.

The fan would provide vertical lift during take-offs and landings and rotate 90° to provide thrust for forward flight, during which the aircraft’s wings would provide lift. The use of contra-rotating fans would eliminate the need for a tail rotor, says Randall.

An electric, hybrid-electric or hydrogen-based propulsion system could power the fan. Randall says the conceptual aircraft could fly at speeds of about 260kt (483km/h), roughly twice as fast as other eVTOLs designs.

“The rotor system can pivot and [the aircraft can] fly horizontally… on wings,” says Randall, adding that his team has already demonstrated the concept on a small scale.

He insists the design, with only the centre fan system, would be substantially quieter than the many other air taxis now under development by various start-ups. Most of those designs use multiple spinning fans to provide forward and vertical lift. Some have wings, others do not.

Such designs are too loud and lack performance needed to fully tap a market estimated by Morgan Stanley to be worth $1 trillion in 2040 and $9 trillion by 2050, Randall says.

Being quieter will enable Maglev’s concept to comply with local noise ordinances and to gain greater public acceptance. “In order to penetrate the mass market, it needs to be much quieter. That’s where we are focusing.”

Maglev has funding from investment firms Breakthrough Energy and Material Impact.