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Skyfly completes flight simulator, hires more engineers ahead of manned test flights

Skyfly Press Release | October 26, 2023

Estimated reading time 8 minutes, 45 seconds.

The simulator uses many of the same systems as the real Axe eVTOL. Skyfly Photo

Skyfly now has its Axe eVTOL flight simulator live, allowing test pilots to assess and fine tune the Axe’s control systems and conduct familiarisation flights ahead of the first manned test flights, which are planned for the first quarter of 2024.

The simulator uses many of the same systems as the real Axe eVTOL, including Axe’s quadruple-redundant and flight-proven Veronte 4X flight controller made by Embention in Spain.

It has been fine-tuned using real world data from hundreds of hours of test flying by the Axe unmanned prototype, ensuring it closely mimics the Axe’s behaviour and flight characteristics.

“This is the result of a lot of hard work that has been going on over the summer, and it’s an important milestone before we start manned test flights.

“This isn’t just a flight simulator; it’s the product of all the data collected over the past few years of test flying our prototype,” said Michael Thompson, CEO, Skyfly.

This simulator is as close as you can get to the real thing. All the inertias have been set up to replicate the real aircraft, all the wing areas and aerofoil sections are exactly the same as the real thing, as well as the power, the propeller design and the overall weight, so it gives us a really good feel for the performance and handling of the aircraft. It shows just how easy it is to fly the Axe, and that is thanks to our obsessive focus on simplicity.”

Skyfly has been adding to its team of engineers ahead of the first manned flights, which team now totals five full time employees and four contractors. The latest additions to the team are Rob Martin, David Barden, Seb Smith and Devan Rudolph.

Martin, Skyfly’s composite structures specialist, brings 30 years of experience as an inventor, engineer and manufacturer. His many past projects include the British Army’s Watchkeeper drones — the first U.K.-designed ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance) drone.

He also has extensive experience with electric-powered vehicles and aircraft, having worked on CUER solar-powered cars, the e-Go electric single-seat ultralight and the Rolls Royce ACCEL, an all-electric race plane which set the current world electric airspeed record in 2021. Martin is also a guest educator at the University of Cambridge and runs the Light Aircraft Association’s composites courses.

Barden joins the Skyfly team as lead design engineer. Like Martin, Barden has worked on the production team for the e-Go electric aircraft. He has also worked for Barnard Microsystems, building long range cargo and surveillance drones for industrial and defence applications. During his seven-year stint with Barnard Microsystems, Barden designed and manufactured parts both using the latest CAD, 3D printing and CNC machining technologies as well as by hand.

Smith is now Skyfly’s head of electrical engineering. A specialist in safety-critical control systems and electric powertrains, Smith comes from an automotive background and previously worked with McLaren, Jaguar Land Rover and Rivian. Smith is responsible for the Axe’s propulsion system.

Design engineer Rudolph holds a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering and brings a wealth of experience from his time as a mathematical modelling engineer for Move.ai and an aerospace design engineer for the Near East University’s Robotics Laboratory, where he worked on a heavy-lift tilt-wing UAV.

He joins Skyfly as a design engineer.

Left to right: David Barden (lead design engineer), Michael Thompson (CEO), Dr. William Brooks FRAeS (CTO), Seb Smith (Electrical Engineering), Devan Rudulph (Design Engineer). Skyfly Photo

The engineering team is led by Skyfly’s long-serving CTO and veteran aircraft designer, Dr. William Brooks, who has designed 17 different aircraft types spanning a 30-year career in aviation, of which over 2,000 examples are flying today.

He is supported by structures and certification veteran John Wighton, formerly head of stress with Pilatus and head of certification at Fokker Aerostructures. Also on the engineering team is LAA-approved inspector, aircraft builder and test pilot Phil Hall, stress engineer Dylan Burkey, manufacturing specialist Richard Tuthill and mechanical engineer Milford Killian-Dawson.

Skyfly’s engineering team has recently been completing static testing of the HPD50 motor and rotor assembly in order to verify performance of the motors, fine tune the pitch of the propeller assembly and to simulate the duty cycle that the aircraft will endure on a daily basis.

“The test rig we have developed allows us to measure the thrust and twisting torque produced by the motor, and along with data logging from the batteries and speed
controllers to give us a whole suite of data we can use to analyze performance,” said Smith. “Most importantly, we have tested the motor to full power and verified that the Axe produces more than enough thrust to take off at full payload. Next up, we will simulate a variety of duty cycles for the aircraft on the test rig to verify reliability, power usage and flight operating times.”

“The Axe eVTOL depends on three things: the hardware, the software and our brilliant Skyfly design and engineering team,” said Jaap Rademaker, COO, Skyfly.

“We are not inventing the wheel wherever possible, but instead we are buying best-in-class, certified components such as flight controllers from Embention in Spain, and electric motors we are co-developing with Geiger in Germany. Those components, our wing and fuselage moulds and tooling, and our flight-tested prototype account for the hardware.

“With our simulator, we have now developed and built the software. And with our now nine engineers, we are at full battle strength steaming towards manned test flights, only a couple of months away now, bringing the excitement and buzz within the team to fever pitch.

“Following months of loads of analysis, driven by airworthiness requirements and CFD studies, and finite element analysis of the overall structure, we now have flurries of parts for our first manned Axe eVTOL arriving and are seeing the eVTOL come together in front of us. The excitement is palpable.”

This press release was prepared and distributed by Skyfly.

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