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Hybrid-Electric Propulsion Developer Ampaire Acquires Magpie Aviation

The company deepens military ties to commercialize its technologies.

Ampaire Eco Caravan in Camarillo, Calif. The Magpie approach works by towing an electric airplane through the sky with a high-performance electrified tow aircraft. (Photo: Ampaire)

U.S. hybrid-electric propulsion developer Ampaire has acquired electric aero tow startup Magpie Aviation. 

“With this acquisition, Ampaire anticipates further revenue growth across both commercial and defense sectors while simultaneously enhancing the capabilities and mission scope of our existing hybrid aircraft,” said Kevin Noertker, CEO of Ampaire. “Building upon our recent acquisition of Talyn Air, the addition of Magpie exemplifies our deliberate approach to integrating pivotal companies and assets on our path to accelerate our leadership in electrified aviation. Expect more compelling advancements throughout the year as Ampaire remains steadfast in our commitment to advancing our growth strategy.”  

The Glider Approach

Magpie Aviation’s operating concept is to extend electric flight range by towing. (Photo: Magpie Aviation)

Magpie emerged from stealth mode in April 2023, revealing a video of its developing Active Hook technology. The Hayward, Calif.-based company planned to use a dedicated full-electric airplane and tow the aircraft carrying payload. It also envisioned using multiple tow aircraft to extend the range of a single flight to achieve zero-emission.

Unlike a glider aircraft, the main aircraft only gets towed during cruising, making it more akin to a tanker operation. However, the tow can’t transfer any energy from the towing aircraft because electric energy will lose efficiency during the transfer.

Magpie plans to gradually scale up the aero tow system to the point at which, by 2030, regional turboprop-size aircraft could be pulled in everyday commercial service by electric tow aircraft. 

This acquisition marks the second startup the company has acquired that’s developing alternative technology to extend electric flight range. The Hawthorne, Calif.-based company announced its acquisition of Talyn Air in July 2023. The latter was developing a vertical take-off and landing carrier craft to handle an electric airplane’s energy-heavy take-off and landing phases.

The eVTOL aircraft will then drop the electric plane for cruising. The technology is similar in concept to Virgin Galactic, Virgin Orbit, and Stratolaunch, where a dedicated launch aircraft takes the payload to altitude so the payload craft can be designed more efficiently and use all its energy to transport the payload.

A Pivot Toward Military Funding

In addition to developing novel operating concepts, both startup companies acquired by Ampaire are getting funding through the U.S. Air Force’s AFWERX Agility Prime program. The military aspect appears to be more critical to Ampaire’s strategy.

According to the report by Aviation Week,  Ampaire’s CEO Kevin Noertker said that he sees potentially large opportunities for two-stage connected or towed aircraft concepts in defense applications, particularly in a hybrid configuration for improved performance.

After acquiring Talyn Air, the hybrid-electric powertrain developer got its first defense contract in 2023. It also enhances the trend for novel propulsion technology developers to rely more on military projects for funding.

In addition to funding, working with the military provides an accelerated product delivery path. While several companies have received G-1 Issue Paper for electric propulsion or eVTOL applications, they still have to undergo extremely rigorous tests with the FAA to certify the aircraft. Working with the military enables these companies to deliver airplanes and collect operating data sooner, so they will implement the design quicker and mature the product for commercial use.

Despite its successful demonstration in extended electric flights, the Californian company holds no headlining orders except for 50 aircraft for Personal Airline Exchange. Therefore, the success of its military projects could be especially important for its product to reach the flying public.

Fangzhong Guo

Author

  • Fangzhong Guo

    Fangzhong grew up near an OEM airport in northeastern China, where he developed his enthusiasm for aviation. Taking upon his passion, he's now working as an aircraft interior design engineer. Besides working in the aerospace industry, Fangzhong enjoys trying out different types of airplanes and seeing how airplane interiors have evolved. So far, he's flown on over 80 types of aircraft. He also planespots in his spare time. His rarest catches included the 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft and AN-225.

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