This is not a plane or a helicopter, but “the best of both.” Atea was developed by Ascendance Flight Technologies, founded in 2018 by four former Airbus engineers who worked on the E-Fan electric aircraft, the project was launched in 2011 and terminated in 2017. This new hybrid device with an original architecture takes off vertically thanks to eight duct fans (propellers) horizontally integrated into four wings.
Once in the air, the machine flies like an airplane, propelled by two propeller engines located in front and on the tail unit at the rear. Vertical turboprop engines inserted into the wings stop when lifting speed is reached.
The transition between vertical takeoff and level flight is delicate and is the subject of several patents. “Then the aerodynamic behavior changes and you have to manage the transfer of power between the engines,” explains Jean-Christophe Lambert, startup president and artificial intelligence engineer. “We have worked extensively on wind tunnel models at the Aerotechnical Institute, at Saint-Cyr-l’Ecole (Yvelines) and at the National Aerospace and Research Bureau (Honera) in Lille to get the best out of both sides. The Atea can also take off like a plane if there is room.
The hybrid engine is another important innovation. The ten electric motors are powered by a fuel-fired turbogenerator, or eventually vegetable fuel, connected to a battery in accordance with the distributed power plant. Atea takes off on electricity from a charged battery on the ground and flies thanks to the current of the turbo generator. During takeoff, which requires a lot of power, the use of a battery avoids the installation of an oversized turbo generator. The device optimizes its energy sources and, depending on the phase, the power of its hybrid motorization varies from 300 to 800 kilowatts.
“The distribution between electricity and fuel according to flight plans is difficult to manage,” says Jean-Christophe Lambert, referring to the very fine electronic control. The hybrid engine allows you to have a lighter battery than a 100% electric aircraft and fly further; this makes it a regional jet rather than a simple city flying taxi. The Atea can travel 400 kilometers at 200 km/h with five people on board and weighs just over 2 tons.
The device will help decarburize aircraft. “It will consume up to 80% less energy than a helicopter, thanks to the lift of the wings, it will produce four times less noise and will be more comfortable,” emphasizes Jean-Christophe Lambert. It can be integrated both in cities and in isolated areas. The manufacturer wants to halve its price compared to a twin-engine helicopter, to about 2 million euros.
It is intended for use in regional transport, emergency services and surveillance. The manufacturer has already received letters of intent for the purchase of 245 Atea aircraft from helicopter operators, passenger or cargo carriers and aircraft charterers such as Evfly and Yugo in Singapore, Helifirst and Jets Systems Helicopters Services in France, FlyShare in the US and PhilJets Group in the Philippines.
Hybrid engine sold separately
The new aircraft manufacturer has several prerequisites. It produced a full scale ground demonstrator of the Sterna hybrid engine to be sold independently of Atea. To do this, he held talks with aircraft manufacturers wishing to switch to hybrids. “We are not just an aircraft manufacturer, we will also provide technology,” says Jean-Christophe Lambert.
Ascendance Flight Technologies has also made a 1/4 scale model of the aircraft and will build a full-size prototype in late 2023. The company wants to fly demonstration flights at the 2024 Olympics and start production in 2025, eventually building dozens of devices. per year, as well as hybrid engines.
Ascendance Flight Technologies, currently installed in the Village by CA in Toulouse and at the Technological Research Institute of Saint-Exupéry for test beds, will move to a 1,100 square meter workshop at the Muret airfield in Lerma (Haute-Garonne) next year. The startup has 50 employees and plans to double its workforce by 2023. To finance himself, he raised €10 million in 2021 from a pool of investors led by Habert Dassault Finance. Former Safran CEO Jean-Paul Hertement joined the board of directors.
The Flight Technologies Pedigree in Numbers
Date of creation : 2018
Work force: 50 employees
Capacity: 5 persons
Distance: 400 km