Jump Aero parachute flight tests improve eVTOL failure handling


Flight test data from Jump Aero’s recent electronic parachute tests shows the technology could be the difference between recoverable and not in the event of an eVTOL failure in the air. 

The tests, conducted in partnership with the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), formed the basis of a Phase II Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) research contract. The US Air Force contract asked Jump to develop and flight test an “electronic parachute” – an adaptive flight controller pre-trained in simulation for various failure scenarios with a machine-learned (ML) neural network. 

The technology means AAM aircraft should experience smaller disturbances and improved controllability in the event of in-flight damage. It also has the potential to improve safety without really increasing the training burden on the pilot.  

To do so, Jump conducted A/B testing against a traditional, static flight controller and showed post-failure improvements in both vertical velocity error and attitude deviation by between 11% and 83%, according to Carl Dietrich, founder & president, Jump Aero. 

“The flight test data demonstrate the potential of our electronic parachute technology to improve aircraft response in the event of failures in flight.  This work could lead to the first civil application of an adaptive/ML controller on an eVTOL aircraft,” said Dietrich in a statement.

“These improvements are of sufficient magnitude that it could be the difference between ‘recoverable’ and ‘not recoverable’. Even more than system failure compensation (which could theoretically be designed into a static controller), the real advantage of an adaptive routine is that it could compensate for damage that would make the implicit assumption of the underlying plant model inaccurate — e.g. it should theoretically handle bird strike events and other in-flight damage better than any static routine. This is particularly important for eVTOLs that will be flown predominantly at low altitudes where bird strikes are most common,” he added.

Jump is building the JA1 Pulse eVTOL aircraft to help first responders get to the scene of an emergency as fast as possible. The capabilities of the JA1 aircraft have significant potential defence utility. The research conducted as part of this AFWERX STTR contract has the potential to pave the way for safety enhancing flight control systems across the broad spectrum of AAM.

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