Impossible Aerospace: A Viable Alternative to Increase Flying Time

In our incessant and never-stop quest for alternatives to the current lithium-ion technology to power unmanned vehicles, especially multi-copters, one company caught our attention over a year ago: Impossible Aerospace.

At the time, in late 2017, we had a fascinating conversation with its founder and CEO, Spencer Gore, but the company was in the process of raising funds and its website was in ‘stealth’ mode so we agreed to a formal interview once they were ready to emerge from anonymity. That conversation took place last week when Spencer, a former member of the battery engineering team at Tesla, called me with the good news.

He opened the conversation with a very and brief message about the last 12 months and the days ahead.

 

Spencer – Impossible Aerospace came out of stealth mode on Monday, September 10. As I told you over a year ago, we are aiming at upending the status quo of unmanned aviation with a long-range electric aircraft; we have raised over $11 million in funding over the past two years and our first prototype, the US-1, is an electric commercial-grade drone with a flight time of up to two hours and is ready for production. We’re on a mission to assemble the highest performance aircraft possible with electric propulsion. We’re headquartered in Sunnyvale, California where we design, assemble and support all our products.

Juan – There are a lot of companies, startups and well established alike that are claiming revolutionary technology. What makes your approach different?

Spencer – We are not building drones and we don’t waste any space or weight on the structure of the aircraft, we are building flying batteries. Every ounce of weight in our UAVs is dedicated to generating power. The battery life of the US-1 outperforms the approximate 25-minute single-charge flight time of other drones available today and brings it to parity with gasoline-fueled systems. In a nutshell, the US-1 is the first aircraft designed properly from the ground up to be electric, using existing battery cells without compromise. We are convinced that this is how electric aircraft must be designed and built from now on if they are to compete with conventional designs and displace petroleum fuels in aviation.

 Juan – In other words, the drone is the battery, correct?

Spencer – Yes! The US-1 is the first aircraft conceived with a “battery-first approach,” and this is paramount to increase power generation way beyond the current state of affairs of conventionally fueled incumbents.

Juan – Tell me a little bit about how you came up with the idea and how your experience at Tesla helped you with this novel approach.

Spencer – Designing batteries for cars and airplanes is very different. In cars, weight is just one of the factors but in aircraft it’s ‘The Factor.’ The US-1 started as a concept by a group of friends, including motor and battery experts from Tesla, SpaceX and other leading companies and then developed into a feasible prototype which took years of development by a team of world-class engineers. We thought from the beginning ‘it’s all about weight.’

Juan – When are you planning to start selling the US-1?

Spencer – We’ve already sold our first units, equipped with optical and thermal sensors, to firefighters, police departments, and search and rescue teams across the U.S.

 Juan – Can you elaborate on the source of your funding?

Spencer – The most recent $9.4 million Series A funding was led by Bessemer Venture Partners and brings the total amount raised by our company to over $11 million. Returning investor Eclipse Ventures and new investor Airbus Ventures also participated in the latest round of funding. David Cowan of Bessemer Venture Partners and Greg Reichow of Eclipse Ventures will join the company’s Board of Directors as the company scales production for the US-1 and develops new future products.

Juan – How about your manufacturing facilities? Where will Impossible Aerospace be based?

Spencer – Given the growing concern over privacy and national security issues, we can confirm that every US-1 will be engineered and assembled entirely in the United States. Government and private customers alike are actively seeking domestic alternatives to internationally-developed aerospace technology, which drives momentum and demand for the US-1.

Juan – Will you be attending Commercial UAV Expo in Las Vegas in early October?

Spencer – Of course! And we’ll be showing the US-1 and for the first time will be able to elaborate on the detailed specifications.

 

We look forward to our encounter with Spencer and his flying battery in Las Vegas.

 

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About the Author

Juan received a degree in Geodesy and a master in digital photogrammetry from Universidad Central de Venezuela and a MBA in international Finance from Florida International University. He has over 750 hours of experience in photogrammetry navigation and camera operation in aircraft as varied as WWII B-25, Cessna 310, Lear Jet 25C and Piper Aztec. Juan holds a Commercial, Multi-engine Pilot certificate. Juan has been selling mapping UAV’s in Latin America for four years and is a frequent guest speaker in events where the safety of flying UAV’s and the fact that unmanned and manned aircraft inevitably will share the same airspace, is a relevant topic. He is the CEO of Juan B Plaza Consulting, a services’ firm specializing in UAV and general aviation issues.

  1. Matthew Elyash

    Very nice idea. Issues abound however.

    While you can pack a bunch of batteries into a frame for each battery you put in you add it’s weight, which gets into the whole how much weight vs how much lift, etc ect. This has been addressed and battled for decades and I don’t see a serious miracle coming out of this.

    Second issue, cycle time. This is based around how long can I keep it in the air, and how fast can I get it back INTO the air once I land. With a “conventional” bird such as a Phantom4Pro or Mavic Air 2, I can fly 25+min, land, power down, Change Battery Pack, Power back up and be back in the air In no more than 2 minutes. If I have a fist full of batteries and a decent (or multiple) charging source (s) I can do that till the cows come home.

    While I can fly this thing two hours, What about when I throw optical and thermal payloads on it. What is the flight time then? Nobody is quoting Batteyr charge times. Nobody is talking about battery chemistry, Safety, or life cycle of the packs? Again, If I fly a full two hours, how fast can I get back into the air. If there is a great wonderful high speed charge mode, how does that affect the longevity of the cells? If this thing is a flying battery when the cells start dying, and the battery management system deals with them, flight time and performance suffer. What do I do with it when performance no longer meets my needs? Battery swap? Maybe I can land at Tesla’s automated battery change out station… Oh yeah those don’t and won’t exist…..

    This may be a wonderful new step in technology, but with the info in this article, I am not running out to had them a P.O. until I hear answers to those and a dozen more questions I have, like, who makes your gimbal? Who makes your thermal Sensor and Gimbal? What is the cost of those items?

    Another question is what is the cost of this miracle of aerospace technology?

    Reply
  2. Juan B. Plaza

    Matthew, thanks for the comment and the array of great questions; I’m sure our readers will be asking them to everyone with a new idea to extend time in the air for multi-copters. We are constantly looking for new technologies that would allow users like you, extend their mission time. We have covered hydrogen fuel cells, hybrid engines, solar panels, tethered drones and a few others, but Impossible Aerospace offered a new concept “Flying Battery” and we covered it. Your questions are valid and I encourage you to reach out to them and ask them; you might be surprised. In the meantime we will continue our quest for new ways to extend flying times and reporting them back to you via this column.

    Again, thanks for reading our publication!

    Reply
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