The six-person TriFan 600 could become the world’s first operational hybrid-electric vertical takeoff and landing business aircraft after initial flight tests started this summer. Three ducted fans pivot so that the vehicle can take off and land vertically from any small landing spot and then, in business-jet mode, climb to 8.84km in 11 minutes, reaching 300 knots. Its hybrid-electric propulsion is based on a single turboshaft engine connected to the generators that power the individual electric motors in the fans.
Beyond the TriFan 600’s emissions, which are much lower than a business jet’s, operating costs are about a third of those of similar business aircraft. “The flight-control computers are so sophisticated that you need minimal input from the pilot," says Robert LaBelle, CEO of XTI Aircraft and the former CEO of Agusta Westland North America. “Everything is fly-by-wire, and the aircraft has a stick and throttle so it’s flown like a business jet rather than a helicopter. We’ve even built in safeguards so that if the pilot tries to make an unsafe manoeuvre, the computer won’t allow it."
Theoretical validation of the TriFan 600 has been done through computer testing. Three prototypes will be used as the vehicle moves through FAA certification. LaBelle expects production to start in 2023.