Cora – formerly Zee Aero – has officially launched its all-electric VTOL aircraft as it begins the next phase of development in New Zealand
In late 2016 we reported on secretive tests of an unusual vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft in California by Zee Aero.
With significant financial backing from Google co-founder Larry Page, Zee was one of the many Silicon Valley firms working on electric passenger aircraft, the number of which has only grown since as battery costs come down and more venture capital enters the space.
Now renamed Cora, the team behind the aircraft has finally unveiled some concrete information about its efforts, and a new home for its future development efforts in New Zealand.
In addition to the name change, Cora is also now part of the wider Kitty Hawk group, headed up by CEO Sebastian Thrun, which is also working on the personal “Flyer” aircraft for low-altitude flights over water – something between a hover bike and a jet ski.
The technology in Cora is certainly more refined than that seen in the grainy footage from 18 months ago. In a video accompanying its announcement the team sets out some of the specifications of the craft, which employs a similar design and aesthetic to many of the other eVTOL pioneers such as Airbus’ Vahana, Joby Avation, Aurora and Lilium.
12 fans provide vertical lift across an 11m wingspan, while a larger propeller mounted on the back of the craft gives forward thrust. Cora can reach up speeds of up to 180kph (110mph), at altitudes of 500-3,000 feet, and when complete will offer a range of up to 100km, the team notes.
Moreover, it’s also planned to be self-piloting meaning anyone should be able to use the service, without a pilot’s licence. Reassuringly, the developers note that their design also includes a parachute that launches “if Cora needs to land without its fans.”
It has also secured an experimental airworthiness certificate from both the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Disappointingly, there was no detail on the all-important question of battery weight and capacity in the announcement – the technology which remains perhaps the single stumbling block to wider electric aircraft development.
The company won’t be pegged down as to when exactly when Cora may arrive in a commercial form. In a statement in the FAQ section of its website, the company explains that: “We are not putting timeframes around when Cora will be available for public flight. We have a lot of work to do and we are working constructively with regulatory authorities. We are looking forward to being able to share our product with the New Zealand public when the time is right.”
What is clear though is that Cora will be a service, not a product, and models will not be sold on a commercial basis.
Having been operating in the country since October 2017, Kitty Hawk will now work with its New Zealand operator Zephyr Airworks, the New Zealand Ministry of Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority to develop and test the aircraft.