An experimental eVTOL intended for passenger transport by the US company Aura Aerospace went up in flames during a recent test flight. The cause was the failure of a power regulator during regenerative braking. The company's CEO uses the incident to draw attention to the importance of testing and certifying components used for electric flying.
The Guardian G1 eVTOL is an electrically powered multirotor that is large enough to fly around with a pilot on board for up to 20 minutes. The aircraft is being developed by the American company Aura Aerospace. The eVTOL is not yet for sale, but the company is already taking pre-orders. Eventually, the G1 is expected to retail for $185,000.
But before the device appears on the market, there is still some testing to be done. A recent incident in which an experimental version of the eVTOL caught fire shows that this is not exactly unnecessary. One of the power controllers exploded when the motors braked, returning energy to the battery (regenerative braking). This resulted in a fire. The pilot - who is also the company owner - was able to get out of the aircraft just in time.
According to Aura Aerospace director Sam Thompson, lessons must be learned from the incident. According to Thomson, it is only a matter of time before real accidents happen. "The problem is that certain components, such as commercially available high-power transistors and FETs, are not at all equipped for aviation electrical applications. Only when certified power controllers are available can electric flying get off the ground safely, says Thompson.
An additional problem, Thompson says, is that aviation authorities such as the FAA and EASA are probably not equipped to assess the reliability of high power electronics such as FETs and transistors. "Until aviation-certified FETs are available, they should not be used to take people into the air," Thompson says.
To avoid further accidents or even fatalities, Thompson recommends testing under maximum load as much as possible. "There have now been several deaths in testing of electric aircraft. Please everyone, prove that your system works under full load, strapped to the ground. I am lucky to have a few burns and smoke inhaled. Others have not been so lucky and have made the ultimate sacrifice in the hope of moving humanity forward towards sustainable aviation."