AAM Innovators Panel Launches Inspirational Day 2 Keynote at NBAA-BACE
Oct. 13, 2021
The Day 2 Keynote at the NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE) continued the themes of inspiration, imagination and innovation established throughout the show’s first day, beginning with a panel comprised of leaders in the rapidly emerging advanced air mobility segment.
“These are the visionaries leading their companies into the future, and [who] have all reached substantial milestones,” said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen.
Panel moderator Cyrus Sigari, co-founder and managing partner of AAM venture capital firm UP.Partners, acknowledged many NBAA-BACE exhibitors are connected to AAM, electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft and sustainable aviation fuel. “How quickly the world’s changed in just a matter of what feels like a handful of years,” he said.
This shift has been driven by companies like Kittyhawk, an AAM developer launched in 2010 by Google co-founder Larry Page. The company’s “Heaviside” vehicle uses 1/3 the energy to travel 1 mile than a Tesla Model 3 sedan, noted CEO Sebastian Thrun.
“The vision was really to make every person fly every day,” he said. “People flying twice a day will make our traffic conditions safer and faster.”
Joby Aviation’s Eric Allison, who previously led the Uber Elevate team that helped launch the AAM movement, cited noise as “one of the differentiators that unlocks our mission to save 1 billion people an hour each day. That has to be designed into it from the very beginning to take advantage of the technologies that we have all been pioneering to make it possible.”
Blade Urban Air Mobility is approaching AAM from the infrastructure side, utilizing existing heliports for short-haul flights in cities across the U.S. This real-world experience has already yielded surprising results. “Fuel [costs are] not the driving factor on these short, urban air mobility flights,” said Blade President Melissa Tomkiel. “It’s really the landing fees … I don’t think most people think about that.”
Beta Technologies CEO Kyle Clark believes requirements that enhance AAM efficiency, such as lightweight construction materials and silent electric motors, will yield a “transformative” passenger experience. “It’s just less stuff to push through the air,” he said, “and you can hear the wind noise change when you change direction. Flying [will be] pleasant.”
The panel also featured insights from Overair CEO Benjamin Tigner and Martin Peryea, CEO of Jaunt Air Mobility.
Inspiration4 Astronaut, Poet and Artist Dr. Sian Proctor
After dreaming of becoming a fighter pilot and astronaut as a child, teacher and geoscientist Dr. Sian Proctor ultimately fulfilled the latter goal when she launched Sept. 16 onboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule as part of the privately funded Inspiration4 mission.
Proctor described to NBAA-BACE attendees how she became mission pilot through a competition among 200 Twitter users and entrepreneurs, in which she was ultimately awarded her seat for her COVID-inspired work as a ‘space artist.’
“I could have said, ‘I want to go as a geoscientist’ or ‘I want to go because I was almost a NASA astronaut,'” she said. “Instead, I [told mission commander Jared Isaacman] that I think you need to send an artist and a poet … the humanity side of space.”
Proctor shared images of several of her on-orbit artworks, as well as a selfie photo inside the capsule holding the framed signature of Neil Armstrong – a gift from the Apollo 11 moonwalker to her father that inspired her as a child.
Champion Skier, Entrepreneur Lindsey Vonn
The session concluded with Olympic champion skier and entrepreneur Lindsey Vonn, who recounted her experiences after suffering numerous injuries that kept her out of the 2014 Winter Games.
“I always knew how much I loved the sport and being injured just made me realize even more how much I loved it,” she told Bolen. “As much as the times were tough, I wanted to get back on my skis, whether it was to compete or not. I just wanted to be able to see snow again.”
That doesn’t mean Vonn didn’t have doubts. She shared a message that resonates in the post-COVID world as much as it did for the famed skier when she again reached the Olympic medal podium in 2018.
“No athlete can do anything without a huge support team,” she said. “There’s so many people that go into making an athlete successful. Especially during those dark times, I really relied heavily on the support of my team and my teammates. I was lucky enough to have great people around me to really rally behind me and help me through it.”
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