UPS and its UPS Flight Forward subsidiary have announced plans to purchase up to 150 Beta Technologies Alia-250 electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) cargo aircraft. The first ten aircraft, which will be used to support the company’s small and mid-size markets, are scheduled to begin arriving in 2024. UPS says it has also reserved Beta’s recharging station and intends to land the eVTOLs on-property at its facilities.
“This is all about innovation with a focus on returns for our business, our customers, and the environment,” said UPS chief information and engineering officer Juan Perez. “These new aircraft will create operational efficiencies in our business, open possibilities for new services, and serve as a foundation for future solutions to reduce the emissions profile of our air and ground operation.”
Beta’s Alia-250 prototype completed its first interstate flight last month, traveling from the company’s test facility in Plattsburgh, New York, to its headquarters in Burlington, Vermont. The Alia-250 is expected to have a cruise speed of up to 170 MPH, 250-mile range, cargo capacity of 1,400 pounds and recharge time of 50 minutes. The single-pilot eVTOL was designed to eventually operate autonomously “as technologies and regulations are established.”
I still can’t picture this idea ‘flying’ but I do have a question…
What are all these VTOL’s trying to be electric? Is it related to the fact most toy and hobby drones are battery operated?
What not turbine?
I don’t see the wisdom in combining two new unproven technologies at once as there are too many unproven safety and performance variables.
For instance, unless there is a pressing medical need I won’t make two major medical changes on a patient at one time. If I did and there was a untoward outcome it would be hard to determine which change caused the problem.
Distributed propulsion is easy with electric, but complex with turbines. That’s why electric VTOLs look very different to helicopters.
The distributed propulsion model also has the potential for a *massive* reduction in moving parts count compared to the engine/rotor/transmission of a traditional helicopter. If you go with fixed pitch rotors, as it looks like this has, you could (in theory) have a system where moving parts = number of rotors. Goodby gearboxes, swashplates, driveshafts, etc.
If they could make a business case for electric, why not? If you can get your charge time down to an acceptable level (and it seems they have), then even without “green” subsidies or warm fuzzy feelings, you might have a good, profitable system. Even if there’s an absolute efficiency penalty because of the weight of the batteries and not being able to burn off fuel, it could work. Last I checked electricity is a fair bit cheaper per unit of energy and it’s available from a multitude of sources. There may also be significant maintenance cost savings—just as owners of electric cars have noted a significant reduction in various mainenance costs (oil changes, brake pads, various engine wear items, etc.) there may be corresponding cost reductions for an aircraft.
If you really felt like it you could probably add a turbine APU or something and go for a hybrid system—your power demand for vertical flight is a lot higher than for cruise, but it only lasts a short time, which is applications where hybrids work on ground vehicles too. But for the shorter flights they envision for this it might be impractical.
That’s what I figured…
The idea of an APU makes sense. Kind of like a diesel electric locomotive. No transmission and direct drive to traction motors, but unlimited power with no batteries and easy refueling. That would make more sense.
As I’ve said the problem with electric planes cars motorcycles etc. is not the motor but the battery.
William, with all due respect, this is 2021. The tech is proven and getting better every day. It’s called Tesla, Nio, Grabat and several others. It may not be perfect for aviation yet but after all, the GM EV1 was not the best car with a 70 mile range. Believe it or not, electricity WILL power these things. All the regular nay-sayers here that don’t believe the infrastructure will support charging these batteries without using more fossil fuels than the airplane would use if it was conventionally powered are just dead wrong and are stuck in the 70’s. It will come.
There are serious problems in replacing fuel sources with the energy densities of avgas/Jet-A. At a 15-1 fuel/air ratio, using these fuels means that only 1/16 of the reactant weight has to be carried by the aircraft; 15/16 is pulled from local air, with the exhaust gases dumped right back in the same place. In vehicles like airplanes, where weight is THE limiting parameter, that is not a trivial problem, and blithely asserting that one is a “naysayer” for pointing it out is not helpful.
I’d not use Tesla as an example of quality.
Spontaneous fires while parked or charging, bumpers falling off Model 3’s, roofs flying off Model Y’s, suspension and wheels falling off Model S and X’s, poor fitting panel gaps, paint flaws, and cruise controls that drive into bridges, semi trucks, police cars, and fire engines.
William, if you’re going to spew stats you should be on your game. You’re not. Bumpers falling off cars or any other structural issues have no bearing on this battery subject. As far as spontaneous battery fires, as in the 2 fires on the 1000 787’s built that you most likely have been a passenger on, there have been 5 Tesla incidents out of 1,000,000 built. Not a bad record.
Here is an article, in a liberal newspaper even, talking about many fires in Tesla cars.
Neither of these are new or unproven technologies. We have been flying electric drones for years, and vtol is decades old.
The other point is that the aviation industry already contributes too much to pollution. UPS is doing the responsible thing and reducing emissions, not adding to them with inferior technology
Things are rarely simple as they seem. Flying a drone that carries approximately zero payload at Flight Level 000 is a far cry from flying three-hundred 70-kg passengers (more like 100kg) at speeds of 550 mph at FL 410. As for pollution, the major aviation “pollutant” – CO2 – makes up about 0.04% of the atmosphere – four parts in ten-thousand. Take a sheet of typing paper and use a pencil to make a dot somewhere on it. That’s 4 parts in 10,000. And CO2 is not a pollutant; it is critically necessary for life on this planet. According to a recent NASA report, elevations in CO2 are likely responsible for a significant increase in plant life across the planet – plant life, by the way, that produces approximate 100% of the oxygen animals like, say, humans require to exist.
I was around when the Clean Air and Water Act was passed into law. Since that time the air over the US has become remarkably clear; the famed Los Angeles haze is nearly gone; flying in the east during summer months is a breeze now. The law did what it was supposed to do. If people are worried about “the planet,” they need to attack the REAL polluters: China and India.
Is arsenic a pollutant? It’s harmless and probably necessary to your life in trace amounts. In higher amounts we all know it’s poison. Medicine has long known that “the dose is the poison”. CO2 might be 0.04% of the atmosphere but your goose is cooked if it ever becomes 0.05%.
So James, you’re saying CORSIA (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation) is wrongly implemented and airplanes are doing the environment a favor actually. Huh… interesting. I will present that to the board.
BTW, you think flying a drone with zero payload at FL000 could be like Wilbur and Orville flying 120ft on their first flight? I think so.
4 parts in 10,000 (400 ppm) is actually very high and is in fact higher than it has been in at least 800,000 years, likely longer. We know from measuring CO2 concentration is air bubble from ice core sample (https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-atmospheric-carbon-dioxide) that the highest levels recorded in history were just under 300 ppm, and the very recent spike to over 400 ppm is alarming. We also know that CO2 levels in the atmosphere are aligned with cooling and warming periods so your cavalier comment about CO2 being plant is an indication that you are getting your information from the wrong source.
We know that mammals need O2 to survive, but are you aware that very high levels of O2 are actually toxic? The same would be true for plants and CO2 levels. It’s bad enough that you are ignoring actual climate experts who actually know what they are talking about with regard to CO2 levels, but you further this misinformation talking about how more CO2 would actually be good for the planet. I suppose you think floods are good for us because humans need water.
CO2 is indeed plant food. And liberal ammunition in any given discussion.
Stressing about CO2 ’emission’ is like killing plants because of their O2 ’emission’.
I don’t know why I bothered to get a pilots license when I could have just built myself an autonomous vehicle and let it fly me around without caring about rules and all that other red tape. So who’s going to pay my widow when one of these things knocks me out of the sky?
Who is going to pay your widow for your own faulty creation killing you? What?!
FYI: Most of the electric airplane prototypes have burned to ashes (with their pilots.)
So I don’t thnk electric airplane propulsion has been prove yet.
James, you are out to lunch on this one. Examples?