If the aviation world is to reach its target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, it will need to transition to a new fuel source for aircraft—both conventional and modern.
That’s the mission of hybrid electric propulsion systems provider Ampaire, which last week announced the acquisition of electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft manufacturer Talyn Air in a bid to enter the defense, drone, and VTOL markets.
The companies chose not to disclose the terms of the deal. But Ampaire said it will inherit “substantially all of the assets of Talyn,” which include trade secrets, patents, and, perhaps most importantly, seven defense contracts for which it has sole-source follow-on rights.
Talyn co-founders Jamie Gull and Evan Mucasey will stay on with Ampaire as advisers.
“[Hybrid electric propulsion is] a small industry of people who have very aligned visions for the future, who are trying to take this novel technology set and apply it in meaningful and exciting ways to do something really good for the world,” Kevin Noertker, co-founder and CEO of Ampaire, told FLYING. “That is a core alignment between the organizations and has been for the last four years as we’ve been building companies side by side.”
Provider of Choice
Launched seven years ago in a suburb of Los Angeles, Ampaire has enjoyed a relationship with Talyn since its founding in 2019, when the eVTOL maker was still in the Y Combinator startup accelerator. During that time, Noertker became friendly with Gull, and the two still talk frequently.
Having now flown 19,000 miles with its hybrid electric systems, Ampaire has no plans to build its own aircraft with Talyn’s technology. Rather, it plans to leverage the patents and contracts it acquired to add its systems to VTOL aircraft, in addition to the Cessna and de Havilland aircraft it already retrofits.
Noertker anticipates a large hybrid electric market developing for VTOL, an industry that already features several decarbonized players. His hope is for Ampaire to become the go-to propulsion systems firm for both conventional and emerging aircraft.
“This is about positioning Ampaire so that we are the provider of choice across all of those,” he said.
That wasn’t always the plan. According to Noertker, Ampaire at first had eyes only for conventional takeoff and landing models. That market, he thought, would drive more customers to the company.
“And frankly, I think that’s the strongest way to decarbonize the breadth of aviation, which is at the core of what we want to do,” he said.
However, as the years passed and VTOL innovation skyrocketed, Noertker now believes a handful of markets are ripe for VTOL operations. Though he anticipates passenger services will remain niche for the next few years, he sees applications for defense and cargo delivery in the near term.
“I definitely think eVTOL is there and will endure as a meaningful segment to the industry, which is partially why we’re so excited about this opportunity here,” Noertker said.
Since VTOL is still a niche market, Ampaire’s near-term focus will continue to be conventional aircraft. But the company plans to begin tapping into the VTOL market by leveraging Talyn’s assets in more ways than one.
Patents Present New Pathways
Ampaire received a heap of intellectual property in the deal, including trade secrets, engineering strategies, and other internal data. But the most intriguing acquisition is that of Talyn’s seven patents.
Noertker wouldn’t get into specifics, but the patents cover two main categories: the staged architecture of Talyn’s eVTOL and in-air recharging.
Unique among eVTOL manufacturers, Talyn’s design is akin to Virgin Galactic’s space tourism service, which uses a lift vehicle to ferry a second vehicle containing passengers to a launch point 45,000 feet off the ground.
Talyn doesn’t quite reach those heights. But the architecture is similar: A wheeled lift vehicle launches vertically, bringing a second cruise vehicle into the sky with it. In the air, the two separate, and the cruise vehicle flies on its own. Then, while still airborne, it can pair up with another lift vehicle, attach itself autonomously, and hover back to the ground.
According to Noertker, Ampaire already has several customers interested in Talyn’s lift architecture, which could one day be used as a launch platform for other eVTOL aircraft. That is not yet the company’s focus, but the lift vehicle adds another potential layer of infrastructure for electric aviation.
Similarly, Noertker views in-air charging as a “frontier opportunity.” He doesn’t expect that feature to appear in the firm’s commercially available Eco Caravan. Before that happens, Ampaire needs to electrify more aircraft.
But the company may soon begin exploring the ability to install charging systems on board aircraft. Like Talyn’s launch platform, Noertker believes in-air charging could be part of the “next generation of functionality” in aviation, another piece of infrastructure for Ampaire to pursue as the industry decarbonizes.
A Growing Collection of Contracts
Since its founding, much of Talyn’s work has come in the form of defense contracts, and Ampaire will inherit seven of them.
Among others, Talyn contracted with the Naval Air Systems Command, the U.S. Air Force’s 621st Contingency Response Wing, and AFWERX, demonstrating launch, release, and close formation flight with a 12-foot subscale prototype of its two-segment eVTOL.
But per Noertker, one of Ampaire’s first tasks following the deal will be applying its hybrid electric systems to Talyn’s aircraft as part of a program with NASA.
Another key acquisition will be the Tactical Funding Increase (TACFI) contract Talyn had with AFWERX’s Agility Prime, the vertical lift division of the Air Force’s innovation arm. Talyn has already built an airframe for those trials and is adding onboard propulsion systems to initiate ground testing. Ampaire will take over when flight testing begins.
Despite his technology trading hands, Talyn CEO Gull is optimistic about the future of the company’s design. Gull continues to see interesting applications for the eVTOL, particularly in the defense space, and he believes Ampaire will carry the torch.
“Evan [Mucasey] and I started the company four years ago and worked really hard in getting this to where it was, getting U.S. government contracts, getting aircraft up flying at some scale, and building this big airframe,” Gull told FLYING. “We’re both stoked to see this continue on with Ampaire.”
Since Ampaire will continue to prioritize conventional aircraft, it may take awhile for Gull to see his aspirations come to fruition. But the deal clearly signals the company’s ambition to expand into markets such as VTOL, which may spend the next decade in infancy.
“What we’re doing is we’re repowering aviation,” Noertker said. “All of it—both the stuff that exists and the stuff that does not yet exist.”