Billions of investor dollars are up for grabs. The market for revolutionary aviation ideas is red-hot. For a startup in the industry the chances of securing funding may never be this good again. That appears to be the impetus behind a move by SE Aeronautics to emerge from stealth mode and announce its all new aircraft design and a push for funding to help bring the dream to reality.
The theoretical spec’s on the SE200 are nothing short of phenomenal. The plane promises to fly 264 passengers more than 10,000 miles with fuel consumption down 70% compared to aircraft flying today.
Digging into the details, however, raises questions about its likelihood of ever taking flight.
A unique design
The SE series proposes a tri-wing design, but still aims to fit within the space guidelines of typical airport operations today. The company expects to deliver a wide-body design on a plane just 140 feet long and 114 feet wingtip to wingtip. Those dimensions roughly match the 737-900. But the SE 200 will be a twin-aisle aircraft.
The SE 300 is an even larger model, promising room for 550+ travelers on board. In a cargo configuration it claims capacity of 152,000 pounds, about half that of a 747-8F, though significantly more efficient than the last iteration of the Queen.
A molded composite frame
The SE promises a completely new approach to construction. Rather than assembling components or even sections together the SE 200 and SE 300 will be built as a monocoque, molded as a single piece of composite.
Composites are significantly lighter than metal frames, but unlike the composite components of today the mold approach promises to save significant assembly time. CEO Tyler Mathews explains that the material won’t require a giant autoclave to cure the impregnated resin. Rather, it can be cured using specialized lights.
The molding approach will also be significantly faster than a traditional section assembly approach. Tyler Mathews claims it can produce an air frame in just a week using this methodology. And he expects to rapidly begin production of certification units and production aircraft from the same initial molds.
Twin engines, but only one is needed
Also contributing to fuel efficiency is the company’s plan to mostly operate the twin-engine aircraft on a single engine. It is so light and has such a high lift ratio with the tri-wing design that the developers expect it to climb at 3,000 feet per minute from departure to 45,000 feet. At that point one of the engines will be shut down for the cruise portion of the flight.
Gaining approval from the FAA for either of those aspects of the flight plan remains a future state consideration for the company.
Speaking of engines, because of the construction approach with modular systems attaching to the molded air frame, VP Sales & Marketing Harold Mathews suggests an engine swap could take as little as 30 minutes.
The fuel tanks will be overhead, in self-sealing bladders similar to those used on military helicopters. That frees up cargo space in the belly and means the thin, molded wings no longer have to hold fuel either. What it means for center of gravity and aircraft control is less clear.
High speed, no sweep
The wings are long and thin to provide increased lift. But the company also claims it can fly at M0.9 with a straight wing design. That seems counter to modern swept wing design theory and wave drag impact on aircraft performance.
While citing similar wing designs on the Proteus and Faradair aircraft, SE does not account for the much lower max speeds (313mph & 230mph, respectively) those planes operate at. Presumably that is part of the future computerized simulation testing SE Aeronautics plans.
New seats? Yeah, SE is planning for those on board. The twin-aisle layout promises a 2-4-2 seating arrangement and 32″ pitch with a new, more comfortable product.
Harold Mathews promises an offering that’s truly comfortable, even in economy class. “You’ll be able to lay your head back, and it will be completely back not leaning to the side…the whole seat will move [when you recline], and the bottom will come up a little bit, your butt will come up, and your feet will go under the other seat. So you’ll be like a little recliner.”
Larger lavatories are also part of the plan, as is an air filtration system that does not recycle air at all. The company promises outside air filtered seven times before it enters the cabin and then exhausted from the plane.
Notably absent, however, are windows. Tyler believes those are a bigger problem for structural strength than they’re worth and that passengers won’t mind a digital version developed with projectors inside.
Talking money and time
So, what will it take to get this project off the ground? The company is looking for a seed funding round of $40-50 million, but it also knows ramping up to production will be a much larger endeavor.
We’re looking at following in the footsteps of say Archer aviation, with their success. They were able to raise a little bit of money up front and garner a fair amount of interest, including from United, and get some orders. The the market right now is kind of wild and we want to take advantage of either going after a direct listing or a special purpose acquisition company and doing a reverse merger and being able to raise sufficient amount of funds to get this thing off the ground.
Our goal is to basically in about two weeks or so open up a seed funding round and raise between, you know, between $40-50 million. And essentially that’s just going to be to hire the bigwigs that we need to hire in their respective field and engineering, proving our technological concepts, as well as a lot more computerized simulation models and wind tunnel testing in more depth and more in more detail.
But during that process we’ll obviously garner interest from airlines and air cargo companies. And then from there go public to raise the amount of funds that we really need to put this thing in the air. So that probably will be a few billion dollars, at least. That’s the outlook and the goal there. And I think, given the market today, it’s actually a reasonable goal.
As for timing to take flight, Tyler does not believe the traditional development cycles will apply. He anticipates getting a plane flying before the next presidential election.
[I]t is a lofty goal, but given the fact that we’re able to build this aircraft even through molding we’re going to be able to build the aircraft a lot quicker. Our initial goal is to actually get the first aircraft prototype flying in three years. We believe we can do that.
And once we do that we… have that molding already set up and done so we will get that prototype up in the air, and then we’ll be able to build multiple aircraft very quick thereafter. So we expect certification can happen a lot faster than the typical eight years, nine years it takes to get an aircraft certified.
With that being said, the FAA will be breathing down our neck, which we want them to be. But the goal for us is to get get something in the air in about three years and get things certified between probably five and six years out.
That’s a lofty goal but we got it we gotta set it so we can meet it.
Given the radical departure from normal that SE Aeronautics is proposing there are questions about the company’s intentions. Tyler is confident in the offering, however.
We spent a fair amount of time to come to this point, not even raising investment, just to make sure that we get, we have all the design process, like down to a tee. Our engineers have been on board designing this thing for about five years and we haven’t actually gone out at all to raise any kind of investment. But we’re to the point now where we feel really really good about the aircraft
So it’s time. The industry is right, so that’s why we’re doing it right now. Our hope is to really be able to put this out quick. We’re doing this for America. We’re doing this to really help the aviation industry which has just been stalled for a very very long time. We really want to move this thing forward as, as soon as possible.
The design is not 100% unique. Similar concept planes have flown and even on a smaller scale are pushing into development. But they serve very different missions and have very different engineering challenges than these new designs.
SE Aeronautics is combining the nontraditional design with a new construction technique and numerous other provisions that will pique the FAA’s curiosity. This could prove more than a small startup is ready to wrangle, particularly with such an aggressive timeline.
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