US aviation firm opens electric aircraft testing base near Selby

East Yorkshire will become a testbed for pioneering forms of aircraft after a US firm set up its UK base near Selby.

Skyworks Aeronautics Corps' VertiJet

US firm Skyworks Aeronautics Corp’s fleet of gyro aircraft, which will be coming to Condor Aviation for testing, includes an electric model, which can fly on batteries for 30 minutes, making short city hops feasible, for example from Leeds to York.

Autogyros – from the Greek “self-turning” – also known as a gyroplane or gyrocopter, were invented nearly a century ago by Spanish engineer Juan de la Cierva.

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Gyros use an unpowered rotor in free autorotation to develop lift. Forward thrust is provided independently by an engine-driven propeller.

Barry Jones at Condor Aviation's site near Selby with a car mounted with a contra-rotating propellor propulsion system Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Managing director of Skyworks Aeronautics (UK) Ltd Barry Jones, a former British Army helicopter pilot, has flown gyros for years, and in the early 2000s made an attempt to circumnavigate the globe in one.

He said: “I’ve always had this love for gyros and as Covid started I kept eyeing gyro development around the world and noted that Skyworks was getting funding together.”

Mr Jones, who specialises in aerial surveillance, wrote to the company, which is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in autogyros. That led to the establishment of the UK arm of Skyworks at Condor Aviation, run by Martyn Wiseman, who Mr Jones says, who “likes to challenge the boundaries of design”.

Condor Aviation is the only firm in the UK which has tested aircraft under a set of recently introduced regulations, called “E conditions”, which are set by the Civil Aviation Authority.

Mr Jones said: “I’ve known Martyn for some time and I’ve always been impressed by his willingness to be entrepreneurial with design.

"They definitely step outside the box and that’s the kind of attitude I wanted for Skyworks.

“This is an emerging technology which is far greener than current aviation, and I do like the idea of harnessing British ingenuity, which we are famed for across the globe.”

Gyros, he says, have 95 per cent of the capabilities of a helicopter at 10 per cent of the price and are much lighter on fuel.

At not too distant a point in the future people may use eGyros to travel short distances quickly - with far less emissions.

“Electric has opened up a whole new aspect of aerodynamics that we didn’t have before because we have that instant power we didn’t have from normal engines,” said Mr Jones.

“Like the early mobile phone we are going through the ‘house brick’ phase. Who would have thought that they’d now last more than a week and be smaller than a matchbox.

“E-gyros are capable on just a battery of 30 minutes of flight, and we’re talking 100 knots - that’s quite a distance. Inter city travel is a viable option and 100 per cent clean.”

The other aircraft which will be coming to East Yorkshire for testing and certification having been manufactured in other countries, include the five-seat Hawk 5, which is being built in Serbia and the VertiJet, a vertical take-off and landing aircraft, with fixed wings and a main rotorblade, which will have a mainly military use.

Bilateral agreements mean that once the aircraft meet Civil Aviation Authority standards they effectively meet two other international standards – those of the European Aviation Safety Agency and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Mr Wiseman said: “We were the first in the UK to fly an aircraft under E conditions – we can test something and say yes or no, that it’s going to work.

“The nice thing for us is that we can fly weird one-offs.”

The development continues a proud tradition of aircraft development in the region. Airships were built just a few miles away at Barlow, in World War One, and military aircraft including the Hawk jet trainer were manufactured at Brough.