Technology is propelling us into the future of transportation — that means not only autonomous vehicles but new modes of flight as well. So far this year, investment in aerospace startups reached nearly $1billion. In July alone, a US radar company raised $13 million while a Chinese satellite startup raised $22 million. And, yet, this investment does not equate success. Over 95% of aerospace startups never get off the ground. The few who manage to overcome these staggering innovation and business challenges of deploying at scale a safe and relatively affordable means of personal air transportation will have captive audiences in every major city in the world. By transcending existing technologies and infrastructure, these startups will offer customers the most valuable asset of all: more time. Whether commuting to work, to a neighboring country, or across an ocean, disruptive air-based personal transportation services are right around the corner.
The Future of Flight: 6 Innovative Aerospace Startups
Funding: $158M, Series B
Headquarters: Denver, Colorado, United States
Boom Supersonic (Boom Technology) is developing a delta-wing supersonic passenger aircraft. Its upcoming Overture jet will travel at Mach 2.2, making it the world’s fastest airliner. It will carry up to 45 passengers, aiming to start transporting passengers by 2023. Boom intends to achieve faster flights at the price of traditional business class airline tickets. Thirty are already pre-ordered with customers including Japan Airlines and Virgin.
Funding: $101M, Series B Founded: 2015
Employees: 300+ Headquarters: Wessling, Germany
Lilium is developing and recently tested an all-electric tilt jet with VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) capabilities. Its four-passenger aircraft would be able to reach a max speed of 185 mph and a range of 185 miles, leveraging its fixed wings. The company is also developing a network of landing pads as part of a broader strategy to roll out its aerial mobility services by 2025. Passengers may then be able to locate a nearby landing pad and book their travel by an app.
Funding: $130M, Series B Founded: 2009
Employees: 230+ Headquarters: Santa Cruz, California, United States
Joby Aviation is developing a VTOL electric aircraft. Joby’s most recent concept, the S4, will feature the company’s signature tilt-prop on fixed-wing design, enabling a 200 mph cruising speed, and 150-mile range, while producing very little noise. Backed by Intel Capital, Toyota AI Ventures, JetBlue Technology Ventures, and with a NASA partnership, Joby is well on its way.
Funding: $36.9M, Series A Founded: 2011 . Employees: 100+ Headquarters: Bruchsal, Germany
The Volocopter X2 is a 2-seat, all-electric, 18-rotor multi-copter. With a maximum range of 17 miles and an optimal cruising speed of 43 mph, the Volocopter 2X is designed to take on the challenges of urban mobility. With a full aircraft emergency parachute and producing a very quiet 65 dB from 75 meters, this air taxi is a credible contender in the air taxi space. Though presently operated with manual controls, there are plans for an autonomous version.
Funding: Larry Page, Private Founded: 2014
Employees: 230+ Headquarters: Palo Alto, California, United States
Famously founded by Larry Page, Opener is developing VTOL short-range air taxis. The company has created an all-electric aircraft, the “BlackFly,” fitted with triple redundant flight systems, hyper-sophisticated software aids, and a Ballistic Parachute System (BPS). The BlackFly offers a range of 40 miles, with a cruising speed of 80 mph.
Funding: Larry Page, Private Founded: 2010 Employees: 300+ Headquarters: Mountain View, California, United States
Also famously funded by Larry Page, Kitty Hawk makes the Cora and the Flyer VTOL electric personal flying cars. The Flyer is a small multi copter design capable of water landings. The Cora is a fixed-wing tilt prop design made in partnership with Boeing.
Both Opener and Kitty Hawk feature large, teams and appear to be unencumbered by common funding constraints. However, given their backer, the commercialization of these current and upcoming personal aircraft designs remains to be seen.
Honorable Mention: Wright Electric
Funding: Seed . Founded: 2016 Employees: 10+ Headquarters: Toluca Lake, California, United States
Wright Electric Airplanes is a very early-stage startup developing an electric airplane concept for commercial airlines. In partnership with EasyJet, Wright Electric aims to start commercial short-haul service with their upcoming 180-passenger airliner, by 2027.
Not On This List
An additional list of venture-backed, innovative aerospace startups were found to be lacking in at least one of three critical areas:
- Have not continued to grow and develop at pace
- Have not acquired the necessary funding along a typical venture-backed timeline
- Have not arrived at a concept that achieves broad product-market fit
One or several of these startups may still emerge a massive success in the marketplace for innovative air travel. Time will tell.
- Aerion Supersonic
- Aspen Avionics
- Near Earth Autonomy
- VerdeGo Aero
Flight Innovation Leadership
This collection of promising startups deploys a notably broad mix of technologies and use cases, from multi-rotors to jet engines, from fixed to tilt propulsion, from urban to transcontinental passenger transport, from piloted to eventually autonomous controls. While many of these ventures have already developed and demonstrated impressive hardware solutions, their greatest challenge remains primarily in their software. Whether requiring the latest CAD modeling for safe travel at Mach 2.2, or enabling a safe, networked, autonomous air taxi service, the race is to develop viable software solutions. Not long from now, limitations of existing infrastructure will be leapfrogged, for those who have the luxury of buying back their time.
Could the disruptive, new technologies springing from aerospace startups impact your organization or perhaps lead to new opportunities in your business?
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