VTOL Startup Pegasus Brings Irons on Board as CEO

 - July 25, 2019, 6:17 PM

South African startup Pegasus Universal Aerospace named Robbie Irons CEO, working with founder and chairman Dr. Reza Mia as the company pursues investors for its hybrid turboshaft/electric-powered Pegasus One VTOL. The company has branded the aircraft as the "Vertical Business Jet"

Irons is a seasoned aviation professional who steered his own consultancy and previously has held senior business development and aircraft sales roles with ExecuJet Aviation at Johannesburg's Lanseria Airport. He will help manage product development and provide strategic support while the new business looks to secure investment. Estimating it will need up to $500 million to bring the aircraft to market, Pegasus is planning investor events from September through November, beginning in its home town of Johannesburg.

Powered by a combination of two 2,300-shp turboshaft engines and electric motors, the aircraft will be designed to carry six to eight people and travel up to 4,400 km (2,375 nm) from a runway or 2,124 km (1,146 nm) when taking off in VTOL mode. The company is targeting a cruise speed of 796 km/h (430 knots). It plans to use electrical power during takeoff and landing in order to have a lower noise footprint and so overcome part of the public resistance to operating helicopters in urban areas.

Pegasus was started in 2012 by Mia, an aesthetic medicine practitioner whose family business has been built on skincare products and energy drinks. He told AIN that so far the startup has been largely self-funded, with some capital having been raised by a 2018 public stock offering in South Africa.

In its current iteration, the Pegasus One design is based on a dihedral wing and an X-tail. "In some earlier conceptual design studies, we looked at different ways to achieve the best VTOL performance with a combination of turbofan engines and ducted thrust," Mia told AIN. "But every time you turned 90 degrees [with that design] you lose 5 percent of the available energy and, also, hot gas is a fire risk. This design allows us to land almost anywhere."

According to Mia, market research suggests that an aircraft like Pegasus One could do well in emerging markets in regions such as Asia, where there are rising numbers of high net worth individuals but limited ground infrastructure for operating conventional aircraft. "We want to be able to land anywhere you can land a helicopter, but, of course, with more range and speed," he explained.

Mia said Pegasus has had discussions with the U.S. FAA about plans for type certification of the VTOL within five to seven years. He maintained that the aircraft will follow a similar certification path to Leonardo's AW609 tiltrotor, while adding that, "This will be safer than a tiltrotor because there are no exposed blades, and you can't stall our aircraft."

Having contracted out engineering work to UK-based consultancy Callen Lenz, Pegasus has begun building a full-scale demonstrator, capable of vertical flight, which it hopes to display in Europe by June 2020. It is evaluating potential production facility options in the U.S. and Europe, but also is evaluating how much work could be done in South Africa in order to reduce program costs. New CEO Irons was on hand for the international debut of the Pegasus One model in May at the EBACE show in Geneva. “As general aviation evolves, I am excited to become actively involved with the innovative Pegasus One,” he said.

Meanwhile, Pegasus is close to selecting key suppliers for avionics, (retractable) landing gear, and engines. Mia said that it has visited GE Aviation, but remains open to discussion with other powerplant providers.