Apple engineers switch to eVTOL

A year ago, powertrain engineer Michael Schwekutsch seemed happy to encourage others to join him in Silicon Valley, California on Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) an autonomous electric car development project, known as Project Titan.

“Do you want to be part of Apple’s special forces creating the next ‘one more thing …’? Then you should look here, ”Schwekutsch wrote on professional online networking platform LinkedIn, posting a link to job openings at Apple.

However, it now appears that Schwekutsch’s professional environment has changed.

“After almost three years at Apple,” Schwekutsch wrote on LinkedIn last week, “it was time for a new challenge. I recently joined Archer Aviation (NYSE: ACHR) in Palo Alto. The message was accompanied by a photo of Schwekutsch standing in front of a desk, next to an Archer brand sign.

Schwekutsch left the ship, accepting an important role as Archer’s new senior vice president of engineering, specializing in propulsion, high voltage and battery systems.

Soon after, Schwekutsch was on LinkedIn again, recruiting additional employees to change course and join Archer. “Power electronics rockstars wanted …” he wrote.

In the weeks following his hiring, Archer was promoting his hire of Schwekutsch, describing him to reporters as “a former Tesla and Apple engineer with powertrain experience,” a spokesperson for Archer wrote in an e-mail to FLYING. “He is an absolute powerhouse in this industry, holding numerous automotive patents and Archer is delighted to add him to their world class team.”

Schwekutsch is just one of many key engineers who recently left the iconic computer and telephone giant to work in the emerging electrical, vertical take-off and landing industry.

“We are looking to build the world’s # 1 electric powertrain team,” wrote Archer co-founder and co-CEO Brett Adcock in a recent post on LinkedIn.

Other engineers who left Apple for the makers of eVTOL include Stephen Spiteri, Eric Rogers and Alex Clarabut, according to their LinkedIn profiles.

Why leave?

It goes without saying that Apple attracts some of the best engineers in their field, so what about the small electric rotorcraft development movement that attracts them? Apple did not immediately respond to the comment.

Keep in mind that the eVTOL industry is very young and has a lot to prove. So far, none of these unique aircraft have been certified by the FAA, although several have made significant progress.

In November, Eric Rogers left his position as Chief Engineer, Radar for Autonomous Systems, to become Head of Radar Engineering at Joby Aviation (NYSE: JOBY). What would cause Rogers, who had spent seven years at Apple, to leave?

The US Air Force, Honeywell, and others have researched radar sensors, such as those now available in hands-free systems in automobiles, and how they might be applied to eVTOLs. Most commercial air taxi models require the aircraft to fly at low altitudes, around 5,000 feet, amid complex cityscapes, including skyscrapers, cell phone towers, and broadcast infrastructure. Radar systems on board air taxis could prove to be a valuable tool for eVTOL pilots flying VFR.

This month, Alex Clarabut joined Archer as CTO, Battery Systems, after six years at Apple, as a Hardware Engineer and CTO.

Needless to say, just like in electric cars, lithium-ion battery systems are critical to the success of eVTOL aircraft. The overwhelming majority of the best emerging air taxis are powered by these types of systems, including sophisticated batteries with complex power management designs as well as protections aimed at security and redundancy.

Although Apple is known for its competitive salaries and benefits, the California air taxi industry may have lured in these new hires with even more money and more perks. The average software engineer at Apple can earn more than $ 141,000 a year, plus bonuses, according to the job site Glassdoor.

In fact, both Archer and Joby arrive at the negotiating table with their pockets full. After going public earlier this year, they both have hundreds of millions of dollars in investor capital. Morgan Stanley predicted that the industry’s market could be worth more than $ 1,000 billion by 2040.

Archer’s hiring of engineers away from its competitor eVTOL Wisk Aero is part of a bitter lawsuit between the two companies. California law makes the practice of hiring from competitors a bit easier because the state does not recognize non-compete agreements.

Archer is getting closer to test flights for his Maker plane. Credit: Archer Aviation

Archer approaches the first flight

This is a very important moment for Archer. It is about to test flight its first prototype aircraft, named Maker. The Silicon Valley-based company plans to perform Maker’s first hover test flight this month. Archer’s eVTOL is expected to enter service in 2024.

Joby, also based in Silicon Valley, has been piloting prototype airplanes for years. In July, it hit a milestone by successfully covering 150 miles on a single battery charge. It should certify its planes in 2023.

Based on business plans shared with investors, Archer and Joby will need to hire thousands of employees in the coming years, as the two companies plan to operate air taxi airlines as well as manufacture their planes.

Of course, Apple isn’t the only iconic place eVTOL finds new hires.

Archer has found their new development director for their fly-by-wire flight control system at Gulfstream Aerospace. Sergio Ferreira has led the development of flight control systems at Gulfstream for its G650 business jet and other aircraft.

At Joby, Didier Papadopoulos, who heads programs and systems engineering, came from Garmin, where he helped develop Garmin’s award-winning Autoland system for in-flight emergencies. Ultimately, much of the initial success or failure of eVTOL will depend on how effectively these key new hires from Apple and other tech and aerospace companies contribute to their projects.

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