Over the past few years, motorsport has seen a great many innovations geared toward improving the industry’s sustainability. The rising popularity of new electric race series, like Formula E and Extreme E, are further driving change. However, investment in new, sustainable technology is not only confined within the industry – we are seeing knowledge transfer from motorsport into a whole host of transport and mobility solutions, from motorcycles, cars and commercial vehicles through to rail and shipping.
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Now, though, we look to the sky as Italian advanced technology firm, YCOM, sets its sights on a new horizon. YCOM is often referred to as the unseen hand behind many of motorsport’s most advanced and successful programmes. From Volkswagen’s incredible, record-holding I.D. R Pike’s Peak to Audi’s Le Mans-winning prototypes and the exciting forthcoming eSkootr Scooter Championship (eSC), YCOM has become synonymous with challenging projects at the forefront of motorsport and new-age mobility. Now, under the guidance of entrepreneur and founder, Nicola Scimeca, YCOM is taking on an entirely new challenge – personal aviation.
“The aviation industry, like many others, is facing rapid technological change,” explains Scimeca. “Primarily driven by legislators and growing consumer concern about climate change, the commercial sector has really begun to focus on sustainability. While the electric and hybrid technology we see in motorsport cannot directly fulfil the needs of long-haul flights, there are other sectors of aviation where they most certainly can.”
That is undoubtedly the belief of Manta Aircraft, an Italian company that is challenging convention with the help of YCOM. Manta Aircrafts´s CEO & CTO Lucas Marchesini points out that while much of personal transport takes place on roads and rails, there is no need to be limited to ‘ground mobility’.
Instead, Manta Aircraft is developing a new type of transport that will enable convenient personal mobility in the ‘third dimension’ – the air. Looking like something out of a science fiction movie, these bold new vehicles – dubbed the ANN aircraft family – are rapidly becoming a reality thanks to this new partnership.
“To realise our vision for efficient personal air mobility, we needed a technical partner with a great deal of proficiency in advanced composite materials,” explained Marchesini “We turned to YCOM, seeking their well-proven capability in design and optimization of structures in composite materials and manufacturing the prototypes with high precision and speed. This unique combination of skills has allowed them to accelerate the development of our ANN2 prototype with outside-the-box ‘motorsport’ thinking while also maintaining rigorous attention to detail.”
The ANN2 is a two-seater, high-performance HeV/STOL (hybrid electric vertical/short take-off and landing) aircraft that has been designed for personal and utility mobility with a wide regional range. Equally well suited to personal aerial mobility as it is to patrol, rapid intervention and search and rescue operations, the ANN2 combines cruise performance and manoeuvrability with the ability to take off and land vertically. When a higher payload is required, it can operate from very small airstrips.
Utilising a hybrid propulsion system, with a gas turbine and batteries, the ANN2 offers a large range and working time, independent of ground support infrastructure since it recharges the onboard batteries with the generator powered by the turbine. Although its lift-generating airframe resembles that of a conventional aircraft, it hides in the fuselage four ducted fans. These work in conjunction with four tilting wing-mounted fans to generate enough lift and stability for the aircraft to hover and easily transition between horizontal and vertical flight.
“The ANN2 will have a range of several hundred kilometres and a cruising speed of around 300 kilometres-per-hour – perfectly suited to travel between cities or in regional areas,” continues Marchesini. “Not only will it have a much lower total-cost-of-ownership than an equivalent helicopter, but it will also be much easier to pilot than existing fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft thanks to fly-by-wire controls and a very intuitive human-machine interface. When you also take into consideration that the ANN2’s battery and turbine operation will be far more sustainable than traditional aircraft, it becomes a compelling solution.”
To verify the ANN2’s design and basic control systems, in just three weeks YCOM developed and manufactured the composites structure of the one-third scale model of the aircraft. This was invaluable in quickly understanding basic flying characteristics and performance as well as material selection and application. Once again, the motorsport strong DNA of the company was crucial to accelerate the development process. Thanks to the help of the expert engineers of YCOM, the design of the complete carbon structure of the full-scale ANN2 is progressing fast, balancing requirements for weight and stiffness with tight deadlines. The assembly of the first prototype, with the structure manufactured by YCOM, will take place in 2022, leading to the official unveiling and first test flights.
“This project has been incredibly exciting, particularly as it is the first advanced air mobility project that we have been involved with,” concludes Scimeca. “We are rapidly approaching the unveiling of the first prototype in 2022 and the initial testing phases – a critical time for the project. From the outset, Lucas and the team at Manta Aircraft have been incredible to work with, entrusting us with their vision and relying on our advanced motorsport engineering, materials and project expertise to make it a reality.”
Manta Aircraft plans to follow the ANN2’s success and early market entry with a larger four-seater version, the ANN4.