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Interview

BNA Excites the Burgeoning eVTOL Market

BNA Commercial Director Umut KARAYEL discusses the unique properties of the versatile BNA ALESTA VTOL product family of the future in this interview. With initial target markets in Turkey and nearby countries as well as the Asia Pacific region, and recent demands for border security in Eastern Europe, the UAS eVTOL aircraft market is clearly taking off. We also talked with KARAYEL about their ongoing talks with the SSB & Turkish Aerospace regarding taking part in the MMU & HURJET programs.

Issue 101

Defence Turkey: Mr. KARAYEL, first off, we would like to thank you for this interview. BNA ALESTA VTOL recently made its debut this summer and you started system flight tests in the first weeks of August. Could you please inform us about the latest status of the test campaign conducted in October? 

Umut KARAYEL: On behalf of BNA, I thank you for giving us this opportunity. BNA ALESTA is a very thrilling project for us. In addition to our efforts to support critical national aviation projects such as the National Combat Aircraft (MMU) and HÜRJET in our country, we have also evaluated and have conducted market research in the area of unique product development. In the first stage, we focused on an electric, fully autonomous, tilt-wing concept capable of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) to utilize in operations such as cargo, reconnaissance-surveillance, border security, and search and rescue. Our experienced design team started concept studies in 2019 and the "BNA ALESTA Concept Version", which we had planned to be the first member of the product family, became ready for flight tests. Our Phase-1 flight test was launched in August with our metal prototype and we tested flight control systems and the tilt-wing algorithms. As of October, we aim to initiate Phase-2 flight tests with our composite prototype which is the closest to the end-product.

Defence Turkey: Have you received any requests for scaled configuration, is there a demand in this area? Contingent upon on your negotiations coordinated with the Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB), when do you expect BNA ALESTA to be in service?

Umut KARAYEL: The idea of BNA ALESTA was inspired and encouraged by the requirements of the leading institutions in the industry, especially the SSB.  It was formed with the primary objective of meeting the needs of a vast number of domestic and foreign end users. BNA ALESTA combines the advantages of both vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) and Fixed Wing Flight Mode and stands out among other conventional UAVs. For this reason, we have been receiving many questions and requests from home and abroad, even during the test stages.

Based on the iterations and outputs of design and test processes, we expect that the first commercial product in the initial configuration will be ready by mid-2021.

Defence Turkey: Do you have ongoing activities for different or larger advanced configurations of BNA ALESTA?

Umut KARAYEL: Yes, with the outputs of the development process of the “BNA ALESTA Concept Version” and additional operational needs that may come from customers, the BNA ALESTA product family will be having new members. We will shape this product family with different payloads, customized mission profiles, and factors that are to be determined based on civil or military use. In line with this vision, we have also adopted a vision that will extend to passenger transportation, by closely following the civil aviation regulations. 

Defence Turkey: Do you intend to use new generation technologies in BNA ALESTA and in other UAS ystems that you will develop in the future? Are you considering the use of batteries and fuel systems such as hydrogen fuel cells to increase endurance?

Umut KARAYEL: Actually, there are lithium polymer battery packs in use at our starting point, but depending on the mission profile, much greater power needs will inevitably emerge. To meet the requirements of future versions of BNA ALESTA, we have already initiated research and collaboration activities on more efficient battery management systems and different fuel cells, especially those based on hydrogen. Additionally, in the medium term we plan to use our knowhow in augmented and virtual reality systems in our VTOL as this is one of BNA’s most important areas of domain expertise. 

Defence Turkey: Can you share some details with us about your project team (number of engineers) as well as your infrastructure?

Umut KARAYEL: While organizing BNA’s exclusive and experienced engineering staff, our aim was to gather the most talented experts in the industry. The majority of our 50 staff members is composed of engineers working in the fields of electronic systems, systems engineering and integrated flight systems. Our engineers, with an average of 15 years of industry experience in innovative product development, are our most important source of power. On the other hand, having received the ISO 9001, AS9100, CMMI Level 3 and ISO 27001 certifications, we have reached a point where we can design and manufacture in the aviation and defense industry on a global scale in a very short time with the support of our partners. Even though we are a relatively small company in terms of number of employees, we have an advantage of flexibility in our organizational structure to increase the number of engineers with potential business opportunities. Especially, I can easily say that we have become a center of attraction for experienced colleagues who intend to go back to Turkey by means of reverse brain drain. For us, this is a source of pride.

Defence Turkey: You previously specified that the National Combat Aircraft (MMU) and HÜRJET projects are within the scope of your goals. What would you like to say about the products you have developed for these projects? Are there ongoing talks with the SSB regarding taking part in such projects?

Umut KARAYEL: Developing critical control systems that will be needed in the MMU and HÜRJET projects is the most fundamental driver behind the foundation of BNA. With this vision, our talks with the SSB and Turkish Aerospace (TUSAŞ) continue intensively in areas such as flight control systems, fuel, air conditioning and engine control. We have recently been informed that we have been selected as a subcontractor for a work package under the HÜRJET project. Our contract negotiations are about to be concluded. Upon its award, we will share detailed information with you.

Defence Turkey: Perhaps it is a bit early, but have there been any pre-requests for BNA ALESTA from abroad? Have you been in touch with potential countries on this? Which markets have you identified as your target markets?

Umut KARAYEL:  In fact, like you we thought it was too early for now, but we have attracted attention beyond our expectations. Despite the fact that we are at the very beginning of our development and promotion activities we have managed to attract the attention of organizations from many industries from defense to telecommunication and across many regions from Europe to Southeast Asia. Despite the adverse effects of the pandemic, our talks with these companies and efforts for possible collaborations continue without slowing down. Our market survey shows that within 30 years, we expect a significant spike in the growth rate of the eVTOL market, especially in the Asia Pacific region. This is also the region where the stakeholders of BNA are active in the market and growing. We anticipate that similar requests will increase in the wake of the completion of the design process.

Defence Turkey: Do you have additional remarks for our readers?

Umut KARAYEL: Defence Turkey plays a very significant role and mission in the sector, which we always appreciate sincerely. On this occasion, I congratulate your team for reaching the 100th issue. Wishing you continued success with many more issues