Since Pegasus Universal Aerospace announced the development of a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) business jet, there has been a ‘resounding’ response from the global market, with interest in corporate, medical evacuation, search and rescue and other variants.
This is according to Robbie Irons, CEO of Pegasus Universal Aerospace, who told defenceWeb that countries and clients around the world have been enquiring about using the aircraft for business, border control, policing, oil and gas and cargo applications, amongst others. Pegasus is, however, focussing primarily on corporate applications, with the aim of achieving Federal Aviation Administration/European Union Aviation Safety Agency certification.
At the moment, the Pegasus Vertical Business Jet (VBJ) is currently in the concept validation stage, with simulation results being validated through scale model testing. Pegasus is now testing various methods for the construction of the full-scale hover demonstrator, and has de-risked numerous subcomponents.
Irons stated that the scale model “achieved perfect stability and gave Pegasus confidence that with a custom controller and the increase in power to weight ratio when scaling the aircraft up to quarter scale, stability will be achieved successfully.”
In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pegasus has been able to remain firmly on track and is negotiating with various foreign funders investors to participate in the development programme. The pandemic has changed the nature of the aviation industry, but it is also being changed by the rapid development of the electric VTOL (eVTOL) urban mobility sector.
“The Pegasus VBJ provides a hybrid propulsion solution and although we address all the performance capabilities of the eVTOL sector, we provide substantially more,” Irons stated. “The VBJ falls into the VTOL segment with a maximum takeoff weight of 5 700 kg (Part 23 & Part 29 certification), serving longer range needs, offering more passengers onboard, single pilot operation with dual pilot capability, higher airspeeds, higher altitudes with multiple enhanced safety and redundancy measures accessing heliports, helipads and conventional runways.”
If funding goes according to plan and milestone are successfully reached, Pegasus hopes for certification by 2025/27 with deliveries following thereafter. “Our biggest focus at this moment in time is to secure our strategic funding partner for Pegasus by the end of 2020 as it will ultimately determine the pace at which the VBJ development programme moves forward,” Irons clarified.
At the same time, Pegasus Universal Aerospace is actively engaging with many of the largest and most reputable original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) globally that participate in the corporate aviation sector, whether it be from a manufacturing, supplier, propulsion perspective, or covering avionics, interiors, systems, structures, advanced engineering, design etc.
“Locally, we have teamed up with Epsilon Engineering whom have played an active and critical supporting role in the de-risking, feasibility and testing phase since the commencement of the project in 2012. It is a privilege to be associated with such expertise here in South Africa and we look forward to working closely with them going forward,” Irons stated.
Most research and development is taking place from the Pegasus offices in Johannesburg, in close collaboration with Epsilon Engineering in Centurion, as well as internationally, including with the company’s international partner in the United Kingdom.
“The Pegasus VBJ development programme has the potential to employ between 7 000 and 11 000 people (direct, indirect and induced) and we are now considering opportunities further afield to ensure the continuity and success of the programme, noting the aviation sector is a USD based currency. As recent funding avenues are now focused offshore, it makes practical sense to explore alternate jurisdictions to identify and establish the manufacturing facilities,” according to Irons.
Design of the Pegasus Vertical Business Jet continues apace, with computer-aided engineering (CAE) being used heavily for this. As Irons explains, computer-aided engineering is the use of computer software to simulate performance in order to improve product designs or assist in the resolution of engineering problems for a wide range of industries.
“With high-speed supercomputers, better solutions can be achieved, and are often required to solve the largest and most complex problems. CAE performs simulation, validation and optimization of products, processes, and manufacturing tools. It also encompasses software tools for engineering process management. CAE applications support a wide range of engineering disciplines and phenomena including: Stress and dynamics analysis on components and assemblies using finite element analysis (FEA), Thermal and fluid analysis using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), Kinematics and dynamic analysis of mechanisms, Multi-body Dynamics (MBD) and Acoustics analysis using FEA or boundary element method (BEM).”
Pegasus Universal Aerospace is using Amazon Web Services (AWS) for computer-aided engineering in the design and analysis of their Vertical Business Jet. “The memorandum of understanding signed with AWS is a milestone that stands us in good stead for the longevity of the VBJ development programme and will ultimately allow us to apply future technologies to a programme that makes business sense, enhancing on quality, safety and efficiencies resulting in direct savings on production cost and time,” according to Irons. “This technology transfer approach adds more credence to our development programme and provides the funders the necessary confidence to participate in the development of the Pegasus Vertical Business Jet.”
Computer-aided engineering allows Pegasus to investigate and make design choices rapidly, giving the programme confidence in the design before prototype production and physical real world testing. It covers all aspects of the programme from design and creating a digital twin of both the aircraft and the manufacturing facility to aerodynamic, structural, thermodynamic and acoustic simulations of both.
Irons explained that aircraft design is generally based on three stages which are conceptual design, detailed design and prototype testing. Some of the problems which are anticipated in flight can be solved during the design stage by making use of modern technology, notably Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD). CFD typically requires a lot of compute resources, which Pegasus Universal Aerospace will use in an on-demand model from AWS which saves money by paying only for the compute resources used rather than a capital investment in expensive hardware.
Irons anticipates using AWS services will reduce design, development and testing effort by 30% in the early stages of the development programme.
“With AWS we have a wide choice of high-performance computing (including high performance GPU machines), enhanced networking and high performance storage which is essential to the work that we do. All of this in a pay-as-you-go model, which is important to Pegasus because we don’t have to sink capital investment into expensive hardware, we have access to exactly what we need and when we need it as an operational expense,” Irons stated.
Pegasus will use AWS services such as Artificial Intelligence with Amazon SageMaker to build machine learning models for failure prediction and preventative maintenance. Connected aircraft and smart factory technologies rely on AWS services such as AWS IoT (Internet of Things) and edge computing services like AWS IoT Greengrass.
Pegasus is using other fourth industrial revolution technology in the design of the Vertical Business Jet, including a number of additive manufacturing technologies. Irons said Pegasus aims to leverage the majority of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies, for the purpose of design optimisation, stability and control algorithms, failure prediction, preventative maintenance, connected aircraft in flight and smart factory technologies, to name but a few.