XTI Aircraft has secured a launch customer for its TriFan 600 hybrid-electric, vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) business aircraft, following an order for three units from what it describes as a "globally recognised operator".

The sale comes as the Denver, Colorado-based start-up prepares to construct a two-third scale prototype of the TriFan 600 to research, test and validate the aircraft's systems.

"We are making good progress," says XTI chief executive Robert LaBelle.

He describes the landmark order as a "validation" of the programme. "Development has advanced sufficiently to give the operator confidence that the aircraft is coming into being," he says.

TriFan 600

XTI Aircraft

XTI began developing the TriFan 600 in 2013, with the aim of creating an aircraft with business jet-like speed and the take-off and landing performance of a helicopter.

The six-seat type was originally designed with Honeywell HTS900 twin-turboshaft engines, gearboxes and driveshafts, but XTI switched to hybrid-electric propulsion earlier this year in an effort to reduce the TriFan's weight and production costs, says LaBelle.

It has teamed with US engineering firm Bye Aerospace to develop the new system, which will have a turbine-driven generator, batteries and motor.

LaBelle expects the research, development and testing timetable for the scale article to take around 18 months. During this period, XTI will evaluate the performance of the TriFan 600's three ducted fans, including their characteristics in take-off/hover and transition to horizontal flight, he says.

The tests will also examine the blade design and performance, the characteristics of the electric motors and the aerodynamic performance of the airframe and its components in both vertical and horizontal flight, LaBelle adds.

"The full-scale TriFan 600 design will mature as we proceed towards the final conforming configuration," he says. "Certification and service entry will take between five and seven years."

Finance is being drawn from XTI founder and chairman David Brody, crowd-funding stakeholders and private equity investors.

While LaBelle will not disclose how much XTI has raised so far, he anticipates "a conservative $375 million" will be needed to bring the aircraft to market.

Source: Flight International