Feature Story Aerospace & Mechatronics

Ready to Revolutionize Your Commute :Hanwha's Vision for Aerial Mobility Takes Flight

October 5, 2020
Personal air vehicle (PAV) the Butterfly soars over a bustling city, demonstrating the promise of net zero air travel

Once confined to science fiction and small, but dedicated, aviation communities, daily personal air travel is set to take flight with an entire generation of aircraft into the nascent urban-air-mobility (UAM) market. Once the market goes active, analysts predict it will see massive growth, with Morgan Stanley anticipating that it will climb to USD 1.5 trillion by 2040.

Among those companies looking to transform the way people get around in cities is Overair, a U.S.-based air-taxi startup founded by some of the leading minds in the aerospace industry. The company is developing the Butterfly, an all-electric personal-air vehicle (PAV) that will provide a quiet, safe, and eco-friendly transportation solution for those who need to move quickly in urban areas.

In 2019, Hanwha Systems, Korea’s leading avionics company, made a significant investment in Overair and entered into a collaboration agreement to bring Butterfly to market.

Suk-Eun Yoon, Head of New Business Development at Hanwha Systems, spoke about the partnership and how the Butterfly will be a gamechanger in urban mobility.

Suk-Eun Yoon discusses the future of aviation, sustainable transportation and urban air mobility while seated in an aircraft Suk-Eun Yoon, Head of New Business Development Office at Hanwha Systems

When did Hanwha Systems begin looking into urban-air mobility?

We first began considering the UAM market in 2018. We formed a task force to dive deep in the field and investigate the best companies with which we could partner. This search led us to Karem Aircraft, which was founded by Abe Karem.

For those who aren’t familiar with the name, Abe Karem is a legend in the aerospace industry. He’s been at the forefront of unmanned-aerial-vehicle development for decades and has created 14 different aircraft designs, some of which were widely deployed around the world.

The timing was perfect. We came across Karem Aircraft as the company was pivoting toward civil aviation and spinning off Overair, which is focused on developing aircraft for use within urban areas. Overair was already working with Uber Elevate to develop air taxis.

Once we learned all this, there was no question that we needed to partner with Overair.

How is Hanwha Systems collaborating with Overair?

Subject matter experts from Hanwha Systems are contributing to the development of key systems within Butterfly, including drivetrain systems, flight control laws, and hardware and software system architecture design and safety analysis. This collaboration applies Hanwha’s deep expertise in these fields to the Butterfly’s design so the vehicle can achieve its stringent goals.

The vehicle will tilt its electric propulsors upward to take off and land vertically and will tilt the same propulsors horizontally to cruise at high forward flight speeds. We envision the vehicle will be used across many use cases where safety, noise, reliability, and affordability are important, including as an air taxi to ferry passengers on short trips within cities.

Preparing for liftoff is eVTOL aircraft the Butterfly, urban air mobility representing the future of sustainable transportation Vectored thrust aircraft, like the Butterfly, rotate their engines to transition from vertical to horizontal flight and back again

Why is the Butterfly being developed as an eVTOL aircraft?

To be more specific, the Butterfly is a vectored thrust VTOL (vertical-take-off-and-landing) aircraft. Building on what I said previously, the Butterfly’s all-electric propulsors will rotate vertically for takeoff and landing and rotate horizontally for cruising.

This means it doesn’t need long runways to operate. However, it uses wings for cruising, which are more energy efficient than using propellers for lift.

Plus, Butterfly uses all-electric propulsors and a battery-powered powertrain, meaning the vehicle won’t produce any tailpipe carbon emissions while in flight. This is key for the introduction of a new mode of transportation, due to both social responsibility to the environment and a lower direct operating cost to make the service accessible to more riders.

What technological advancements make the Butterfly possible?

Advancements in battery technology mean that the Butterfly will be able to make multiple trips on a single charge and reduce how much downtime it needs for charging. It will also be very simple to charge. All an operator will need to do is plug it into a power source, meaning that maintaining and flying a Butterfly will be relatively easy and cost-effective compared to traditional aircraft.

The Butterfly will also use Karem Aircraft’s patented-VTOL technology. This uses advanced computer systems to control the Butterfly’s motors and blade actuation, which allows the aircraft to maintain maximum speed while the propellers operate at their most efficient settings. This improves safety, acoustics, reliability, and efficiency, as the propellers experience reduced loads, vibrations, noise, and aeromechanical efficiency losses. This, in turn, improves the rider experience in the cabin, but also ensures the vehicle will not be acoustically disruptive to the public, allowing the vehicle to operate in urban spaces.

What is the timeline for the Butterfly’s development?

The Butterfly is currently in the design phase. We plan on commercializing the aircraft by by the middle of this decade.

In preparation for that, we have considered all elements of the value chain to ensure that, in combination with Overair’s other great partners such as the Uber Elevate network, a complete and viable air taxi service is available to riders. This value chain includes vehicle flight operations, support, takeoff and landing sites, security systems, and charging systems. Hanwha is already considering the required infrastructure, focusing on the Korean market. By having all these in place, Butterfly will be well-supported when it starts offering its first passenger flights.

Once testing is complete, Butterfly will carry passengers as part of a full-fledged air taxi service, initially with a pilot on-board but eventually in a fully autonomous aircraft once pilotless operations are safe, certifiable, and acceptable to the public.

Are there any challenges you expect to face?

The Butterfly and other types of UAM vehicles will offer a brand-new paradigm for transportation. So, we’ll have to educate the public on how these aircraft will be a benefit to the community.

The Butterfly is designed specifically to build community acceptance, including enhanced safety features and an acoustic design to prevent noise impact on neighborhoods. Overair is working very closely with regulators and other industry participants to ensure a safe and viable transportation system emerges.

What will the Butterfly’s impact be on the future of transportation?

eVTOL aircraft like the Butterfly represents a major step forward. Until now, commuting by air was something only seen in science fiction. Once the Butterfly takes flight, it will become reality.

“For us, the Butterfly is a giant leap forward.
The work we’re doing to develop this vehicle has enormous potential
in transforming the way aircraft in general operate.”

- Suk-Eun Yoon, Hanwha Systems

Overair is targeting certification from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration for the Butterfly as a civil small aircraft.

Looking further into the future, Hanwha Systems hopes to see the Butterfly, air taxis, and UAM vehicles are adopted by a wide audience and be a part of the creation of a global market for urban-air mobility.