Simon Scott, FalxAir, Ltd.: "We have received interest [for our personal air vehicles] from multiple agencies, civil services and environmental agencies"

FalxAir, Ltd is based in Staffordshire (UK) and is one of the world’s first companies to realise the potential of hybrid electric aircraft propulsion. Over the past nine years, it has worked on multiple systems to aid the integration of hybrid power to multiple platform types including fixed wing aircraft, rotary wing aircraft, airships and unmanned air vehicles across the globe. These revolutionary aircraft designs have the potential to make a significant impact on the Personal Air Vehicle (PAV) and rapidly growing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) industry. Now, using the Falx Air proprietary platform design and control system, a full flight ready platform will be produced over the next 12 months, which will include a new hybrid power generation package, allowing the vehicle increased endurance with minimal fuel consumption.

FalxAir’s director, Simon Scott (West Bromwich (UK), 1967) is qualified in Computing, Engineering and Secure Data Communications and has specialist training in guided weapons and surveillance technology. He has worked at high profile Bio Tech companies, specialist IT Design companies as well as in the Military. In this interview, Simon discusses FalxAir’s experience in developing PAV and where he hopes to take his company’s hybrid power products in the future.

Interview date: September, 2009

Interviewer: Toby Price

To kick of the interview, could you please describe how and why you ended up founding FalxAir? Do you come from an aeronautical background?

I grew up in an aviation family. My Grandfather was a Bomb Aimer on Lancaster bombers in WW2 and my uncle was a senior airframe engineer in the Fleet Air Arm, based on aircraft carriers in WW2. I spent my youth at every UK Airshow, museum and aviation related event through the 70’s & 80’s. It was working with my Grandfather, in his workshop in West Bromwich, which inspired me many years ago. I studied engineering at college and also electronics before joining the British Army and working with guided weapons and secure communications systems for reconnaissance. After leaving the military in 1996, it took me four years to get enough personal funds to start doing the research and moving forward with my basic designs.

Has the road to developing your VTOL platforms been a rocky one or has the process gone smoothly? Have investors been readily available to fund each stage of the project, enabling it to proceed unhindered by financial constraints?

Our biggest issue, as with many major innovations, has been funding. We have been very limited in what could be done and being able to progress the project due to being self funded.

You believe your personal transport vehicles “could replace the car for some ten million individuals around the world who have achieved the status of ‘high net worth individual’ and who would prefer to go in a straight line for journeys of up to 800 kilometres, in an aircraft that consumes less than 13 litres of fuel an hour”. Have you conducted any market research to identify just how many people could acquire these vehicles? How do you envisage our air space 10 to 15 years from now?

Market data has been gathered from across the globe, regular checks and updates are added to our market plan to ensure we target the right range of people and do not detract from the outstanding performance capabilities of our designs. Air traffic is unpredictable with regards to growth and impact this can bring but we see how the markets are growing in the personal flight arena with many more people undergoing training and purchasing light aircraft/helicopters to remove the nightmare of road congestion. We intend to work closely with leading certification specialists and regional governing bodies to ensure we adapt the vehicles flight capabilities, customer safety and reliability in all areas for future air traffic growth.

At the 2008 Electric Aircraft Symposium in San Francisco, Richard Jones, a technical fellow at Boeing Phantom Works, Boing’s advanced R&D unit, was quoted saying: “I am talking about making aviation available to everyone as a daily means of transportation”. We’ve all seen sci-fi films with “highways” in the skies, but we are still some way off from that. Are you aware of any government research into the legislative and operational implications of having thousands of commuters using VTOL aircraft to fly to and from work?

Several private ventures are looking at the infrastructure for PAV platforms as well as companies such as Boeing, but research needs to be done not only in future systems but the integration into current structures as smaller countries may wish to adopt this type of transportation and have to use current control systems due to costs.

You mention that a number of defence ministries are interested in your products for stealth applications. I could also see them being very useful to emergency services around the world. Have you approached or been approached by ambulance, fire or police departments?

Stealth technology and ‚stealthy operations are two different things. Due to our very low noise signature and thermal signature, the platform lends itself well for stealthy operations. As far as emergency operators are concerned, we have received interest from multiple agencies civil services and environmental agencies.

Although the FalxAir technology would never power anything as big as a Jumbo Jet, do you have plans to develop a version of your aircraft which could take passengers? I am thinking of perhaps something like a flying coach.

Very much so, we are working towards a three seat and five seat versions as well as a larger cargo/utility platform.

What was the main reason for opting for hybrid-electric power for your aircraft: performance, fuel efficiency or attractiveness from an environmental perspective?

All of the above, but also safety. Our hybrid system gives us two energy systems to provide propulsion instead of the conventional, single engine.

In July, the NASA Innovative Partnerships Program and the Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency (CAFE) Foundation announced the Green Flight Challenge: a flight efficiency competition for aircraft that can average at least 100 mph on a 200-mile flight while achieving greater than 200 passenger miles per gallon. Will you be entering your aircraft in this competition?

We have looked at the “PAV Challenge” and it will be an area we will look at during the next few years, but our aim is platform readiness and optimisation so any competition would have to wait until we are ready to make the impact a platform such as our will bring.

Finally, you are currently looking to raise additional funding to start manufacturing your VTOL vehicles. What message do you have for any potential investors who could be reading this interview?

We believe in the expansion of the use of airspace but not within the current model that governments and incumbent corporations predict. We believe it will be about personal air vehicles with a focus on renewable energy and even components. Our company tag line is “Sustainable Aviation Solutions”.

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