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“The S-A2 eVTOL vehicle product concept will be very close to our final product”

Our Bureau - : Feb 21, 2024 - : 2:00 am

Supernal, Hyundai Motor Group’s Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) company is racing to be one of the first eVTOL makers to commercialize safe, efficient, and affordable everyday passenger air travel. 

“At Supernal we are looking at becoming a global leader in Advanced Air Mobility, when the market eventually scales up. So, we are here with a global perspective for the next several decades to come says Jaiwon Shin Ph.D. CEO Supernal in an exclusive interaction with Atul Chandra at the Singapore Airshow.  

The S-A2 eVTOL vehicle product concept will probably be very close to our final product Shin states, adding that it would preserve the major features like eight tilting rotors, the general wing configuration, and fixed landing gear

Please elaborate on the reasons for Supernal’s participation at the Singapore Airshow.

There are several important reasons for our participation at the Singapore Airshow. The APAC region is already very vibrant in terms of having powerful economies and the region will also be home to approximately 40% of the world’s population.  

Hyundai Motor Group’s real motivation for starting this brand-new business is to advance humanity and serve people. So, this region has a growing economy and population that we would like to support with valuable contributions. 

One of the primary reasons we are here is that we want to make sure that we are building relationships and partnerships in Singapore. Geographically, AAM could be potentially very important for the future of mobility in the APAC region, which has lots of islands. While the current eVTOL capability may not be really supporting connecting islands that are set apart in some distance. But battery technologies will continue to improve and we don’t know what sort of a new powertrains will become available in the future that will make this possible. 

At Supernal we are looking at becoming a global leader in Advanced Air Mobility, when the market eventually scales up. So, we are here with a global perspective for the next several decades to come. That’s why we need to start working with government and industry in all the other interested parties in APAC countries to setup those foot holds and springboards.

What is the importance of Supernal’s S-A2 eVTOL vehicle product concept?

The S-A2 eVTOL vehicle product concept will probably be very close to our final product. We started with over 100 concepts, many of which were some frankly wild ‘Star Trek’ type concepts. I actually asked our engineers to free up their mind and not bring any pre conceived notions and they just went wild. We literally started with hundreds of concepts ranging from some real wild concepts and some more mundane concepts with a lot in between. 

The S-A2 eVTOL vehicle product concept is the product of four years of effort and a lot of analysis and development. That is why the final product will probably preserve the major features like eight tilting rotors, the general wing configuration and fixed landing gear. We have opted for fixed landing gears as retracted landing gears, would have added more weight and complexity.

What are some of the salient features of Supernal’s S-A2 eVTOL vehicle product concept?

In our concept, the tilting rotors are always working no matter what stage of flight. This is unlike lift fans which only work during takeoff and landing and are a dead weight. The blades on these lift fans also act as small wings and depending on the orientation of the blades, could generate lift or generate drag. This not only has an impact of ride quality, but also poses an additional challenge for the Flight Control System (FCS). Hence at Supernal we have opted for a more efficient system, where everything works all the time. This is also the best way to provide smooth flight, just as one experiences in commercial aviation. 

We also spent a lot of time and effort on the rear-end of the aircraft, which is reserved for the battery pack. We are very conscious that battery technology will continue to improve in coming years and as a result have chosen not to integrate the batteries into the aircraft.  Integrating the batteries into the aircraft structure is a lot more complex and will result another round of certification when the structure needs to be changed. As a result, after careful thought our engineers decided to just be able to swap out the battery without having to make structural changes to the aircraft and as a result without having to go through a certification process again

What are some of the challenges that you foresee when it comes to eVTOLs for Advanced Air Mobility?

I feel that blades required for the powerplants for eVTOLs will be the Achilles heel for the industry as we will require to have these manufactured in thousands to meet the demand. So, the manufacturing facilities needed to manufacturer thousands of these blades is needed. 

We will also need passenger carrying eVTOLs to have redundant and failsafe technologies. We will be flying at lower altitudes of below 500 m and hence bird strikes pose a serious threat. So, we have ensured in our design that is very robust right from the outset and even if one rotor or motor fails, there is sufficient redundancy for safety. In our analysis we found the eight-rotor system to be ideal from a safety perspective. 

Where are the areas you find technology still has to evolve?

Actually, it’s a little bit counter intuitive, because we are developing completely new aircraft and a lot of people worry about flight control and can this thing actually fly? 

However, while flight control is certainly challenging because of the all the advancement in avionics and flight control software, we can we believe we can do this. It will not take too long to master.

Where it is taking time is related to electrification, because there have never been fully electric aircraft of this size, weight, and also, most importantly, carrying passengers. For an eVTOL we require tremendous short bursts of power for take-off and landing. So much work needs to be done on vehicle power systems, electric motors, inverters, etc for the energy storage system.

The battery technology of today doesn’t really support the requirements we have for short bursts of power.  That is why we are working heavily on this with Hyundai Motor Group, which has extensive capabilities when it comes to technologies for EV batteries. At the moment the requirements from eVTOLs are much greater however we are also working with very innovative companies, which are looking to meet the requirements we have. In the long-haul it is all about and has everything to do with electrification.


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