USAF Awards Electra $85M Contract for eSTOL Aircraft

The Virginia company designed a prototype able to operate from parking lots and soccer-fields.

Electra Aero is developing an eSTOL prototype aircraft for the U.S. Air Force. [Courtesy: Electra Aero]

Electra Aero said it will receive up to $85 million under a U.S. Air Force funding program to support development of a full-scale electric short takeoff and landing, or eSTOL, prototype aircraft.

The Air Force award combines private investment, government funding, and matching Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding for Electra’s development of the new aircraft. The latest contract follows Electra’s six active Air Force SBIR and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) contracts that have funded development of eSTOL’s main characteristics, including distributed electric propulsion, blown lift aerodynamics, precision flight controls, and hybrid-electric powertrains.

The Virginia-based aerospace company has been developing a hybrid STOL aircraft that it says can operate from fields the size of a soccer pitch or a parking lot. Electra says its eSTOL “represents a new class of aircraft, characterized by helicopter-like operational flexibility with performance and operating costs better than comparable fixed-wing aircraft.”

The company said it designed the eSTOL to operate in a range of environments from busy urban areas to remote strips. The aircraft’s potential missions include cargo and executive transport, urban and regional air mobility, humanitarian assistance and disaster response. Electra said it has received more than 1,000 orders for the eSTOL.

“There is a significant gap in the Joint Force to provide logistics and sustainment to widely dispersed units across large contested geographical areas at the tactical edge,” said Ben Marchionna, Electra’s director of technology and business development. “Electra’s eSTOL is ideally suited to serve as a small highly fuel-efficient airlifter that helps the Air Force execute its Agile Combat Employment doctrine and meet its operational energy goals to reduce aviation carbon emissions."

In spirit, the eSTOL takes over where older STOL aircraft like the Cessna L-19 Bird Dog and Helio Courier left off decades ago. However, its larger size and lifting capacity helps it fill the space between traditional small, short-field utility aircraft and larger airlifters that need longer runways. 

Jonathan Welsh is a private pilot who worked as a reporter, editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal for 21 years, mostly covering the auto industry. His passion for aviation began in childhood with balsa-wood gliders his aunt would buy for him at the corner store. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanWelsh4

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