Monday November 16, 2015 0 comments
DENVER – Vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft are nothing new. The military has flown a 'fixed-wing' aircraft with VTOL capabilities -- the V-22 Osprey -- since 1989. And while helicopters have always held that distinction, other commercial applications have been limited.
David Brody is an attorney whose second job may end up revolutionizing the business jet industry.
“I've been practicing law for over 40 years in Denver, but I've always had this passion for science and technology and aircraft,” he says. That passion led him to create a successful helicopter company about 10 years ago, headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas. Some of the technological advances developed by that firm bore fruit in the form of military contracts, while others provided the impetus for a new type of aircraft, and a new company.
“I started XTI Aircraft Company about three years ago to develop the first commercially-certified vertical takeoff airplane,” Brody explains. “We focused on the engineering and all the details to validate the design and came to the conclusion that we had an excellent configuration in the TriFan 600.”
Most large VTOL aircraft rely on helicopter technology, utilizing tilt-rotors affixed to the wings or other military technologies. What XTI Aircraft has developed is an airplane with hovering capabilities, thanks to three ducted fans – one in each wing and another in the fuselage. They not only provide the lift required for takeoff, but the wing fans then rotate to give the aircraft its forward propulsion.
According to Brody, the six-seat TriFan 600 combines the best of both worlds. “Compared to a typical corporate jet, assuming you have a place that's safe and legal to land, then the TriFan gives you the advantage of basically door-to-door transportation and avoiding the hours that people spend traveling to and from airports, even for private jets at regional airports.”
And when stacked up next to a helicopter, Brody says it's no contest.
“Helicopters have a speed of, on average, maybe 110 to 120 miles an hour, whereas our aircraft will go 400 miles an hour...helicopters have a range of maybe 300 to 400 miles, our range is 1,800 miles. And there's a comfort factor. You don't have the vibration or noise in our aircraft like you do in most helicopters.
“The point is that even if a person owns both a business jet and a helicopter, those aircraft combined cannot accomplish what the TriFan 600 can do by itself. That is, take people long range and take off and land vertically. They will be able to land on helipads or any other paved surface, and will have the opportunity, through XTI, to have custom-made helipads and hangars installed at their home or business.”
The daily operating costs will be similar to that of a mid-sized helicopter, with a purchase price of $10 million to $12 million, which falls within the range of comparable business jets produced by the likes of Gulfstream and Learjet.
As XTI Aircraft ramped up development in the last two years, Brody assembled a core management team with some impressive credentials. “We have Jeff Pino, the former president and chief executive of Sikorsky Aircraft, who took that company from $2 billion to $7 billion during his tenure, and also on the team is Charlie Johnson, the former president of Cessna, which is arguably the leading private business jet company in the world.”
At the moment, XTI is in the midst of an equity crowdfunding effort to help finance the firm's first prototype, with current pledges nearing $14 million.
“We're very pleased with the interest we've received,” Brody says. “The process is: you test the waters, get these people to sign up and express their interest, then you go to the SEC with a filing that discloses all the material information about your company and the investment.”
XTI filed its papers with the SEC on Nov. 10. Once the SEC qualifies the company, they can then move forward with selling shares, something Brody expects by early next year.
“We're also talking with high-net-worth individuals, investment banks and strategic investors, and we're getting strong interest in all those areas because we still need to raise more money. Any aircraft development project takes hundreds of millions of dollars, which is what we eventually need to raise over the next several years to get to commercial production.”
XTI Aircraft hopes to produce and test fly its first prototype by summer 2018. “It will be exciting for everyone who has a stake in this company because you'll be able to see that important milestone,” Brody notes.
Then, if all goes as planned, commercial production is expected to begin somewhere between six and eight years from now. Nor will production be farmed out of state – the offices are located near Centennial Airport, on the south end of the Denver metro area, where they'll not only be building the prototype but also have plans for the commercial facilities.
At this point there appears to be more than enough demand – the firm has commissioned three separate market studies of the aircraft industry, which project sales of anywhere from 40 to 100 TriFan 600’s per year.
As Brody puts it: “We have a product that we think will revolutionize air travel for this segment of the industry. We're not replacing commercial airliners, but we certainly will have an impact on the business jet and helicopter markets.”
To view a video of the TriFan 600, click here.