Honeywell says the move reflects an unexpectedly muted market interest in its original gas-turbine-based hybrid-electric proposals. While the company remains on course to run a complete hybrid propulsion demonstrator in 2020 based on its HTS900 turboshaft, Honeywell is quickly ramping up its all-electric capability in parallel.

“We’d like to play in both areas,” says Bryan Wood, senior director of Honeywell’s hybrid-electric and electric propulsion programs. “One thing that’s surprised us to a certain extent is we thought more of the market at this point – especially in regard to evolving [electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL)] aircraft – would come around to the realization that there are still severe limitations to battery technology.

“Aside from the Bell Nexus, every other major credible OEM is going with all-electric architectures.”

The partnership with Denso, a $50 billion Japanese company that leads the supply of inverters and motors to the automotive industry, is targeted at meeting the all-electric as well as hybrid-electric demand. “We are taking the best of aerospace and automotive, and we plan to bring a sizable amount of capital and R&D investment,” says Wood. Denso’s contribution will be based on its expertise in mass production. “They’ll be able to get to a cost point and a level of reliability next to none,” he says. Ultimately, Honeywell aims to combine its propulsion capability with Denso’s products into a motor/inverter offering “that’s integrated with flight controls and avionics and actuation,” he adds.

“We are working jointly with technologists to create something for this market,” says Bob Buddecke, vice president and general manager of power systems at Honeywell Aerospace. “We’re not just channeling or providing capital; it is more of a technology partnership to bring something into the aerospace market with elements such as our brand-new compact fly-by-wire system, IntuVue RDR-84K band compact radar system and other product synergies. We think the broader Honeywell Aerospace portfolio is something we can bring to the table to unlock additional sources of value, and Denso is the unquestioned leader in power on the ground.”

The fact that 200 or so start-up companies are studying urban air mobility and eVTOL transportation shows there is definitely a demand for something to change in air transportation, says Wood. “We’ve narrowed our efforts down to prioritize 95% of our time on the 15 of them that we believe have the highest probability of actually making it to the finish line. But honestly, out of that 15, probably many fewer will make it.”