This New Electric Aircraft Uses ’60s-Era Tech to Take Off Like a Helicopter and Fly Like a Plane
Tilt-wing applications were first used in the 1960s, but MOBi-One's new design is on the leading edge of the eVTOL revolution.
Electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft are the hottest components of aviation these days, but one company is using a tilt-wing concept from the 1960s to power its new model. ASX Technologies decided to move in a different direction than eVTOLs from Joby, Hyundai and Archer, which use tilt-rotors—the rotors move in different positions while the wings stay fixed. On its MOBi-One, the whole wings tilt for takeoff/landing and point forward for flight.
The tilt-wing concept has had a long history, according to CEO Jon Rimenalli, noting it was first demonstrated on the XC-142 in the ’60s and is now being used by the U.S. military on the V-22 Osprey. The design allows the MOBi-One to take off and land like a helicopter and fly like an airplane.
“The tilt-wing design is more aerodynamically efficient than lift-plus-cruise configurations and it has fewer moving parts compared to tilt-rotors, making it more reliable,” Rimenalli told Robb Report. “The control system is simpler than both configurations as well. It just made sense to choose this path.”
The tilt-wing technology, different from other competitors in the eVTOL segment, has been used by the military for several decades.
ASX made other significant choices on its way to designing the MOBi-One, which can fly at speeds of 150 mph, land on vertipads in an owner’s backyard or office rooftop, and essentially cut commute times by a factor of five compared to driving a car.
Launched in 2017, the company was founded by executives from the aerospace industry, including Rimanelli and John Paul Yorro, as well as Dr. Anita Sengupta, an actual rocket scientist who worked on the Mars Rover projects and held senior positions at Boeing and NASA, before joining ASX.
The company also hired noted automotive designer Camilo Pardo, designer of the 2005 and 2006 Ford GT. Pardo gave the MOBi-One the capacity to carry five passengers, or in the freight-hauling version, 1,100 lbs. of cargo. The project also attracted the endorsement of Bob Lutz, the larger-than-life former head of GM, Chrysler and Ford, who is also a lover of airplanes. He sits on the ASX board.
The MOBi-One was created by an automotive designer, with an interior for five. The first version of the aircraft will be piloted, while subsequent versions will be autonomous.
ASX, which unveiled the MOBi-One at the 2018 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, decided to make the Motor City its home. Rimanelli says the company wanted to leverage the automotive industry’s manufacturing capacity and take advantage of the area’s engineering resources. He compares the current feverish race in Urban Air Mobility and eVTOL design with the electric-vehicle world 15 years ago.
“We’re seeing a renewal of mobility with plenty of outside-the-box thinking,” he says, adding that ASX has an edge. “By leveraging our deep knowledge of automotive EV technology, mass production, aviation, and deep space reliability, we will make personal air travel more affordable for everyone,” he says.
Rimanelli says the MOBi-One’s mile-for-mile commuting costs with a luxury automobile will be comparable, though the aircraft will be five times faster. It will also have a 60-mile range with current battery technology. ASX designers are working on a hybrid solution that will extend that range to 300-plus miles. ASX plans to deliver up to 2,500 aircraft by 2025. It will start with the cargo version in 2023, and begin passenger service a year later.
The tilting wing configuration allows the aircraft to land and take off like a helicopter, but fly forward like an airplane.
“When it comes to the future of UAM, an all-new experience is knocking on our door for inter- and intra-city mobility,” says Rimanelli.
Sengupta, the rocket scientist and chief product officer at ASX, is equally bullish about the future of Urban Air Mobility. “Studies estimate that by 2035, global air travel-based inspections, goods, and passenger services have the potential to be a $74 billion market,” she says. “Passenger transportation will be more than 40 percent of that market opportunity.”