French hybrid-electric aircraft developer VoltAero was first out of the blocks at this year’s Paris show, unveiling the initial flight-test prototype of its Cassio 330 five-seater the day before the show’s official opening.
VoltAero is now gearing up for the aircraft’s maiden flight – expected to take place in the coming months – where it will be powered solely by its Kawasaki Motors-supplied 150kW (201hp) thermal engine.
That milestone will be the first step in the Cassio 330’s certification journey, says chief executive Jean Botti. Later, the company will replace the engine with a full hybrid-electric powertrain.
Contributing to the overall environmental performance is a bespoke propeller design from Duc Helices. “This propeller is being developed specifically for us very, to travel at low speed, very high torque, no noise,” says Botti.
“The objective of this airplane is to not disturb the environment – it’s not only CO2 reduction.
“Every take-off and landing is electric.That makes it a very low-noise aircraft that can do many operations, not only carrying people, but it can take medical evacuations, it can transport cargo, and it can do it 24/7,” he adds.
The Cassio 330 is the first in a family of aircraft that will have between five and 12 seats, tailored for numerous applications including air taxi, commercial flights, logistics and private ownership, Botti adds.
VoltAero’s hybrid-electric module combines the Kawasaki thermal engine, Safran Engineus 100 electric motor and a gearbox from French transmission specialist Akira. Batteries are supplied by US firm Electric Power Systems.
The first prototype will be used to assess the Cassio 330’s handling qualities and aerodynamic performance and will be later used for additional propulsion development activities. While the critical phases of flight will always be under electric power, the thermal engine serves as a range extender, recharging the batteries during cruise. It also provides a back-up in case of an electrical system failure.
A subsequent example of the aircraft, to follow in early 2024, will be the first to be fitted with the complete hybrid-electric powertrain and will lead the certification push.
“Once we have done all the testing and validation of that plane, we will take the engine off and replace it with a hydrogen engine,” Botti adds. “Take-off and landing will always be electric, though.”
Kawasaki Motors recently became an investor in VoltAero, contributing to its Series B funding round through which the company is aiming to raise €32 million ($34.5 million).