A start-up behind a “modular” family of military jet trainers it plans to build in the UK has until the end of November to raise £1 million ($1.3 million) through crowdfunding to design a concept fuselage demonstrator in time for September’s DSEI defence show in London.
Aeralis – which has the backing of Bombardier and Thales among others – has already accumulated £2 million towards the project, which is aimed at bringing to market by the early 2020s a basic and an advanced jet trainer that share features including a carbonfibre fuselage, central wing, cockpit, and engines.
However, speaking at an event in London on 11 October, founder and chief executive Tristan Crawford said the business would need another £30 million to build a prototype it wants to fly by 2021, and launch a certification campaign. Crawford says there is an “addressable” market for about 300 basic and advanced trainers – mostly in Europe, the Middle East and Africa – as existing types become obsolete through the 2020s, and governments seek cheaper solutions to train their student fighter pilots.
Aeralis hopes to start production of eventually 12 to 20 aircraft a year by the mid-2020s – possibly using funding from the Welsh government to set up at the former Royal Air Force base at St Athan near Cardiff – with Bombardier’s Belfast plant supplying the wings and engine pod, and Thales UK the avionics. Formula 1 design house Williams Engineering would be contracted to manufacture the composite fuselage.
Crawford says the Aeralis concept stands out in a crowded military trainer market because it is the only solution offering a basic and advanced trainer on the same platform, offering considerable savings to any operator. The main changes are that the cockpit is upgraded, the outer wings are replaced by a swept design, and the single engine – housed in a common pod under the aircraft – is swapped for two engines.
“The most successful aircraft designs have been the most flexible,” says Crawford. “This way, air forces can have common maintenance, and training, with the student following a single syllabus all the way through, rather than moving from one type to another.”
Designing the first all-British military aircraft since the BAE Systems Hawk is a major incentive for Aeralis. “We want to engage the considerable expertise and resource that we have here in the UK,” says Crawford, who has worked for Airbus and BAE Systems.
Although Bombardier, Thales and other partners have not sought a financial stake in the programme, they have contributed “time and resource in other ways”, says Crawford. The latest round of crowdfunding will offer new shareholders a total of 15% equity in the company, but Aeralis says “our forecasts are for the returns to be a multiple many times what they invest”.
Aeralis has not chosen a powerplant supplier – but after rejecting the Honeywell F124, it is looking at the Williams International FJ44. “The engine choice really drives this,” says Crawford. “We need a small turbojet that can work in a single or twin application.”
Crawford says that if Aeralis does not raise sufficient capital by November, “the project is not derailed, but we would lose momentum”.