Electric Dream Flying Machine

In 2016, Peryea ended his decades-long career at Bell Helicopter and made a short-mileage, but big career move over to the aerospace structures business unit of Triumph Group Inc. in neighboring Arlington, Texas. He was VP of engineering, manufacturing engineering, and innovation until 2019. “We started looking at the eVTOL space when I was at Triumph,” he says. “I was allowed to form a small team to look at some electric-design concepts, but unfortunately Triumph was not in a position to move forward.”

So, with Triumph’s blessing, Peryea co-founded Jaunt Air Mobility, where he is finally developing his electric dream flying machine. Such an environmentally conscious “far-out” concept seems like something an aviating John Denver would have dreamed up — and sang about — at his Windstar Foundation. Yet, back in Denver’s day, the technology simply did not exist to make such dreams reality. Peryea says, “Back when I was running Bell’s Xworx organization, we looked at what it would take to develop an all-electric rotorcraft and we could never close a design solution. Battery performance wasn’t sufficient then, and the weight of an empty aircraft exceeded the takeoff weight.” Peryea believes that recent advancements in battery and motor technologies make it finally feasible to develop eVTOL aircraft today. “I was aware of the slow-rotor compound (SRC) technologies that were being worked on by Jay Carter at Carter Aviation Technologies. (Carter’s a technical consultant for Jaunt). It’s the marriage of battery and motor technologies with the SRC technologies that made an eVTOL aircraft you could certify commercially viable.” Peryea also mentions that thermal plastic technology developed by his former employer, Triumph, now makes eVTOL manufacturing feasible.

Still, one wonders, even with advancing technology, can a relatively small startup realize such a large aviation dream? Won’t it take a big-boy OEM? “It’s actually easier (for Jaunt) because we, as a company, are more focused on a single product and single mission,” says Peryea. “We are highly motivated and aligned to do exactly what we are doing. The larger OEMs internally have a lot of competing interests spread over various commercial and military programs. Those product lines compete for the same dollars, so it can be a little more difficult to get the resources internally. Also, when the leadership of a large OEM changes, the strategic direction and priorities of the corporation can change. Typically, in a big organization, decisions can come slow and impact the speed of development.”

16 Mar/Apr 2021

Recreational Recharging

Yes, Peryea has a need for speed, both in aircraft development and on the ski slopes away from his business. He enjoys his two grown sons (both engineers) pushing him to his personal limits on the ski slopes. (He jokes, “The three most dangerous words on the mountain are ‘Follow me Dad.’”) Yet, away from the Colorado slopes and away from his engineering teams at Jaunt, Peryea slows down. He says, “Everyone absolutely needs down time. The brain and the body have to recharge.” Frequently, the Cornell University alum does this by reading, but his leisure books are not the usual beach paperback bestsellers — unless that beach is overrun by Ivy League physicists. His two most recently read thrillers are “The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom” and “The Last Man Who Knew Everything: The Life and Times of Enrico Fermi, Father of the Nuclear Age.” Peryea notes, “Fermi always used first principles to solve problems. That’s a tool I like using. When you go back to the most fundamental elements, you can really solve a lot of engineering problems.”

Revitalizing Rotorcraft

Peryea believes that a fundamental problem afflicting today’s rotorcraft industry is that it doesn’t solve enough problems. He explains, “The rotorcraft community is relatively small, and the cycles of learning are a real problem. Back in the 1960s, there were many new aircraft programs that started across the spectrum, so many aviation engineers had a lot of programs to work on throughout their career. They had a lot of opportunities to learn and develop new technologies. Today, they may work on two programs; the cycles of learning are not there.” Peryea believes that Jaunt Air Mobility is helping to usher in a revolution that will revitalize rotorcraft and the industry at large. “I see the opportunity as being broader than opportunities for Jaunt Air Mobility. A new generation of engineers will be working in this new (eVTOL) space. It’s going to require a lot of new technology for all-electric, autonomous aircraft to fly. It’s going to require batteries, flight controllers, and sensor technology, for example. It’s an exciting opportunity for new engineers coming up. Traditional aircraft haven’t radically changed, except for their avionics. Helicopters still look like helicopters. Fixed-wings still look like airplanes. eVTOL is a new type of aircraft in a new aviation sector and industry. That’s going to create a lot of exciting opportunities,” says the technology executive excitedly with no love-and-hate mixed feelings.

eVTOL is a rotorcraft design that Peryea definitely loves.

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