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Kelly Michals/Flickr/Otto Aviation1,2
On August 26, 2020, website The Drive announced the debut of a revolutionary new airplane, Otto Aviation's Celera 500L.
News of the plane first appeared in April 2017 in two tweets:
Someone looking for an ID of an unusual looking aircraft spotted at the Southern California Logistics Airport. https://t.co/83J7RqOpvypic.twitter.com/eAPrXNwIEf— John Wiseman (@lemonodor) April 16, 2017
The plane has been identified: https://t.co/ha6VmLLtYm— John Wiseman (@lemonodor) June 15, 2017
What makes the plane "revolutionary"?
The plane's unusual teardrop shape allows for a 6 foot 2 inches tall (188 cm) cabin that will seat six people, but the main advantage of the shape is the laminar flow it creates. Laminar flow is smooth-flowing air that is unaffected by turbulence. Air flowing around typical aircraft becomes turbulent because of friction between it and the aircraft's surfaces. This turbulence increases drag and reduces fuel efficiency.
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According to Otto Aviation, the laminar flow around the Celera is "the minimum drag solution for aircraft surfaces, and features smooth layers of airflow with little-to-no mixing of adjacent layers." The company states that the Celera’s drag is 59% less than that of "similar-sized conventional aircraft."
Another unique feature of the Celera is that it employs a pusher configuration. This means that the propeller is mounted behind the engine, and the plane's engine is also unique. It is a high-efficiency piston engine made by German firm Raikhlin Aircraft Engine Developments (RED). The A03 V12 engine generates 550 hp (410 kW), has a multi-stage turbocharger, and can run on Jet A1 fuel, kerosene, or biodiesel. The engine has been certified by both the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The Celera 500L has a maximum cruising speed of 460 miles per hour (740 km/h) and a range of over 4,500 miles (7250 km). That is double the range of a similarly-sized conventional aircraft. The plane only requires 3,300 feet (1 km) for takeoff.
The Celera has an unprecedented fuel economy, achieving between 18 and 25 miles per gallon (7.7 – 10.6 km/L), whereas a typical business jet burns one gallon of fuel for every two to three miles (3.2 to 4.8 km). This gives the Celera 500L an incredibly low per-hour flight cost of just $328.
The company claims that the Celera's carbon emissions will be around 80% lower than comparable business aircraft, and 40% lower than commercial aircraft. Otto holds seven patents relating to the plane, including a novel exhaust system that incorporates a heat exchanger which provides additional thrust.
The future of the Celera 500L
The Celera's range and short take-off distance mean that it can fly between any two U.S. cities without the need to refuel. This makes it ideal to serve as an air taxi, allowing a family or a group of up to six people to fly privately for the same cost as commercial travel.
Flying privately means avoiding airport congestion, and the need to travel long distances to a major airport. Otto Aviation told The Daily Mail that, "We believe when the price of private air travel is competitive with commercial air travel, an enormous market opportunity will result." Given the increased desire to fly privately due to COVID-19, Celera could be a game-changer.
The Celera could be used for cargo deliveries, making same-day delivery an option for millions of people. The plane could also be used in military fpr intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions.
While the Celera 500L currently doesn't have windows, Otto told CNN Travel that newer versions will have windows that will sit flush with the fuselage, and won't disrupt the laminar flow. Otto is planning a larger version of the Celera 500L, the 100L, which will be 20% larger and accommodate fiveD-sized shipping containers. The company is also considering the use of a hybrid or all-electric propulsion system.
Chairman and Chief Scientist of Otto Aviation, William Otto Sr., told The Drive that, "Innovation at its core is solving a problem without conventional bias. Our goal was to create a private aircraft that would allow for direct flights between any city pair in the U.S. at speeds and cost comparable to commercial air travel."
Otto Aviation is expected to begin B Round financing sometime in 2021, and the company is also looking for a manufacturing facility. The company expects to receive FAA certification by 2023, and to start to deliver planes by 2025.
If you think the Celera 500L looks like a nuclear bomb casing or a torpedo, it's perhaps not a coincidence. Before forming Otto Aviation in 2008, William Otto worked on tactical nuclear weapons and torpedos at Los Alamos Scientific Labs. He also worked at North American Aviation on the Minuteman missile guidance system, and as chief scientist of the Rockwell B-1 Lancer bomber.