French startup raises $11.7 million to speed hybrid power VTOL plane development

hybrid power VTOL plane

Toulouse-based aviation startup Ascendance Flight Technologies says it has secured $11.7 million in new funding from investors to accelerate development and testing of its hybrid-powered vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) passenger plane, Atea. The craft’s first public flight is planned for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

Founded just three years ago, Ascendance is hoping to further increase the pace of moving Atea toward the prototype stage. The five-seater VTOL plane is hybrid powered by Ascendance’s Sterna system combining electrical battery drive with kerosene combustion. It is intended to rival helicopters for medium-distance passenger transportation. The company says current designs will lower comparative carbon emissions by up to 80% and cut noise generation by a measure of four, providing a maximal range of 400 km at top speeds of 200 km/hr.

The company was founded in 2018 by veterans of Airbus’s E-Fan program that continues developing of the aviation giant’s all-electric passenger plane. Insight gained on battery limitations in that effort convinced Ascendance managers that a hybrid system was a more realistic and robust concept for new generation commercial craft – at least for starters. As a result, they’ve conceived Sterna as a modular system pairing batteries with a range of combustible materials like kerosene, bio- and synthetic-fuels, and ultimately for use with hydrogen cells.

That mix of power sources, Ascendance says, will provide Atea craft with a remarkably quick 10-minute turnaround time. Its design is said to meet European Union regulation requirements for next generation aircraft and technology, while also meeting the standards for uses including passenger transport, emergency medical services, sightseeing flights, or surveillance and patrol missions.

Ascendance’s hybrid power VTOL plane plan gets help from heavy-hitters in Toulouse aviation

Getting Atea to prototype and testing stages got a lift from the $11.7 million in new funding from big institutional investors that included M Capital, Kima Ventures, and Habert Dassault Finance ­– which has links to France’s giant Dassault Aviation firm. Indeed, many seasoned veterans in Toulouse – the French and European aeronautics capital ­– have jointed Ascendance’s effort to bring Atea into service sometime after its maiden demonstration flight planned for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“This successful round of funding will allow us to focus on full-scale prototypes and patents  in order to accelerate the development and industrialization of our technologies and products,” says Ascendance cofounder and CEO Jean-Christophe Lambert. “So far, we are on schedule in the development of our disruptive hybrid-electric technologies. Recent technological achievements… and successful testing campaigns confirm that the company is on the right track.” 

Sterna’s hybrid propulsion system includes what Ascendance calls an unprecedented collection of intelligence tech overseeing energy management and flight controls. That platform will also provide operators with a complete set of data from the motors, batteries, and other components, and significantly simplify maintenance operations and improve aircraft availability and customer services.

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