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Earlier this week, Scottish start-up and electric engine maker Mako Aerospace held an online demo day, to talk about its “Forerunner” propulsion system.
Mako Aerospace claims that once in service, it will have a 600km range – far more than current electric aircraft engines. By comparison, the Eviation Alice is aiming for a range of 250 miles (400km). As a result, this could be an appealing solution for airlines.
The demo day was hosted by Founder Kieran Duncan. In the online demo (a video is here), he went through a number of different areas.
Duncan says that the Mako team aims to build “propulsion systems that enable a usable range on today’s battery technology.”
This comes as Eviation CEO Greg Davis admitted to the Seattle Times that the battery that will allow the Alice to fly as intended doesn’t exist yet – “Are the batteries on the prototype aircraft capable of propelling the certification aircraft, capable of providing sufficient energy? The answer is no, absolutely not.”
In contrast, Kieran Duncan said that the idea that “we need 100 years of more battery improvement or something… is actually not true.”
Instead, Mako aims to build the Forerunner engine, which he claims will get a range of 600 km “on today’s battery technology. “
Kieran Duncan said that the key was to achieve a “breakthrough in propulsion technology and that’s why at Mako we’ve spent the last year creating the Forerunner propulsion system.”
The key to the performance that Mako intends to achieve lies, according to Duncan, “in Mako’s partially superconducting propulsion technology.”
Currently, the Forerunner engine is being tested on a six wheel pickup truck, with a modular testbed for electric propulsion systems. Onboard the truck, which the team call “Jet Truck”, Mako have swappable batteries, cooling, parallel electronics, a motor and fan modules allowing them to swap in and out components of the Forerunner propulsion system and test at each level.
The aim is to move to experimental flight in around eighteen months.
We spoke to Mako co-founder Pia Saelen, who confirmed that Mako’s strategy is to develop the engine but not the plane.
According to Pia Saelen, “Our mission is to enable electric flight and to do that, we can’t just lock ourselves into one aircraft. Forerunner’s benefits should be available to hybrid, hydrogen and electric aircraft, whether that be retrofit or in ground-up designs.
“Plus, from a start-up perspective, the opportunity to provide early customers with hybrid retrofit systems is obviously quite appealing.”
That sounds similar to MagniX, which is powering the Eviation Alice, but also other electric, hybrid-electric and also hydrogen-electric aircraft. However, Saelen says there is a difference between MagniX and Mako’s engine:
“When we say all-electric jet engine, we’re talking about the duct/nacelle, fan, motor and power electronics as a single turn-key unit at 3x the power as opposed to what MagniX is doing, which is a motor and power electronics combo.”
The aim is for Mako’s Forerunner engine to power aircraft in the 40 seat range. That puts Mako in the same kind of bracket as the retrofits and linefits from ZeroAvia and Universal Hydrogen.
Like them, Mako aims to have aircraft running with its engines by 2028.
Pia Saelen said that they had “a lot” of interest from and discussions with the aviation industry, but were under NDA and so could not at the moment give names.
If their solution works as they say it should. then the attraction is obvious.
It significantly extends the range of electric aircraft. Whereas previously, a route such as Los Angeles – San Diego (179km) might have been realistic, now routes such as Los Angeles – Las Vegas (454km, the one they show on their website), come into play.
And though aviation is very capital intensive, with that money being needed up front for production, the route of developing the engine while being aircraft agnostic makes sense for a start-up.
It’s also worth noting that the team also isn’t on its own. Pia Saelen and Kieran Duncan are University of Strathclyde graduates and so their engine is being developed with the help of the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS) at the University of Strathclyde.
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