Aergility Prepares Atlis Uncrewed Cargo eVTOL For Flight

Aergility unveiled its Atlis full-scale prototype at the Xponential convention in Orlando, Florida, on April 26.
Credit: Aergility

Aergility has unveiled the full-scale prototype of its Atlis hybrid-electric vertical takeoff and landing uncrewed cargo aircraft.

The aircraft is designed to carry 500 lb. of cargo 300 mi., or 400 lb. for 600 mi., with greater simplicity and reliability than competing eVTOL aircraft.

The Atlis has a unique configuration that combines a multicopter with a gyroplane. The aircraft takes off and lands vertically like a multicopter, using six electrically driven lift rotors. For forward flight, the fixed-pitch rotors autorotate, generating half the lift. The rest is provided by a narrow-chord wing.

A 90-kW turboprop in the nose provides cruise propulsion and drives a 4-kW generator to recharge the batteries in flight. Flight control in all axes is accomplished by varying rotor rpm, adding and subtracting electrical power while averaging a state of autorotation and zero power draw from the battery.

Aergility calls this “managed autorotation technology” and says it allows transitionless flight from hover to cruise and back, without requiring tilting propellers or variable-pitch rotors. This simplicity results in fewer moving parts for higher reliability and lower maintenance and ownership cost, the company said.

Turboprop propulsion increases range, and charging the batteries in flight—including by regenerative braking of the rotors—reduces their size and increases the ratio of payload to maximum weight, Aergility CEO James Vander Mey said. It also eliminates the need for charging infrastructure on the ground.

The configuration improves efficiency by splitting lift between the autorotating rotors and high-aspect-ratio wing. The design also provides survivability, Vander Mey said. The Atlis can lose a single rotor, one of the three redundant battery packs or propulsion engine power and still continue to fly and land. 

Rather than an external cargo pod, as carried by some eVTOL uncrewed logistics aircraft, the Atlis has internal hold, which the company believes will simplify cargo handling in remote areas. The aircraft can carry a useful load of 600 lb. of cargo and fuel, which provides a ferry range of 1,600-mi., he said.

Aergility has been flying a 30%-scale model of the Atlis and plans to begin flight testing the 24-ft.-span, full-scale prototype this summer. The company expects to begin customer deliveries in 18-24 months. “We have a customer that has funded much of our development up to this point, but we are unable to disclose additional details,” Vander Mey said.

Initial buyers are expected to be military and overseas customers that do not require FAA certification of the aircraft, although that is planned eventually, he said. Aergility sees strong potential for a simple and efficient hybrid-electric VTOL cargo aircraft in markets such as Africa, with its poor road infrastructure.

Graham Warwick

Graham leads Aviation Week's coverage of technology, focusing on engineering and technology across the aerospace industry, with a special focus on identifying technologies of strategic importance to aviation, aerospace and defense.