Zunum Aero (Mayan for hummingbird) was an aircraft manufacturer startup based in Kirkland, Washington. Backed by Boeing HorizonX and JetBlue Technology Ventures, the company worked from 2013 to 2018 on a proposed family of hybrid electric regional aircraft of up to 50 seats.
|Ashish Kumar, CEO|
Matt Knapp, CTO
Number of employees
|70 (Oct 2018)|
Zunumn Aero was founded in 2013 with Ashish Kumar as CEO and Matt Knapp as CTO. Other board members included Logan Jones and Raj Singh.
Around the beginning of 2017 they launched plans to fly a prototype hybrid-electric airliner in 2019 or 2020, under the revamped FAR Part 23 rules for electric aircraft standards expected by 2018 and with first type certification by 2020.
In April 2017, JetBlue Technology Ventures and Boeing HorizonX invested a combined $6.2 million in Series A funding. This was matched by an $800,000 research and development grant from Washington state’s Clean Energy Fund.
Beyond February 2018 Zunum needed $50 million in Series B funding and received bridging loans from JetBlue and Boeing in April, allowing hiring in the summer of 2018. However the company failed to attract additional investors.
Nearly all of the 70 staff were laid off in November 2018, bringing complaints of unpaid wages. Both the headquarters in Bothell near Seattle and facilities in Indianapolis closed. Zunum has since released information saying that their hardware and technical assets are in their possession and in storage, and that they are currently fundraising for the next chapter of their company.
In November 2020, Zunum Aero filed a lawsuit against Boeing alleging that Boeing tried “to gain access to proprietary information, intellectual property” and then used its dominance “to delay and then foreclose” Zunum’s operation, “in order to maintain its dominant position in commercial aviation by stifling competition”, using this proprietary information “to provide a hybrid-electric propulsion system for a different aircraft design” with Safran. Zunum said that Boeing tried to poach Zunum’s engineers.
On 5 October 2017, Zunum Aero formally launched the development of a six-to-12-seat aircraft. Purchase cost was expected to stay below the list price of a $4.5 million single-engine turboprop such as the Pilatus PC-12 or Cessna Denali. Zunum targeted a $250 hourly operating cost including fuel, electricity, and batteries, or 8 cents per ASM. This would have been inferior to a Boeing 737 for 300–500 mi (480–800 km) sectors, comparable to a Q400 over 300–400 mi (480–640 km), and 3 to 5 times cheaper than a similarly sized PC-12 or Beechcraft King Air.
In May 2018, private jet charter JetSuite was announced as the launch customer for the proposed nine-passenger hybrid, for up to 100 aircraft. Zunum investor JetBlue Airways was also a strategic investor in JetSuite, led by founding JetBlue executive Alex Wilcox.
Ground tests of hybrid-electric power system subassemblies began in early 2018. In October 2018, Zunum selected Safran to supply a new 3Z variant of its 1,700-2,000 hp (1,270-1,500 kW) Ardiden turboshaft, delivering 500kW with an electric generator. Turbogenerator and batteries were each designed to provide about half the power required initially, before batteries improved and could take over. The battery pack energy density would have been upgraded regularly, to increase planned range from 700 to 1,000 mi (1,100 to 1,600 km) between 2020 and 2030. The evolving batteries would have been certified every two years and introduced often, in line with their anticipated short cycle lives at high utilization rates.
Design work focused on the power system. This would initially have been a series hybrid type with an onboard turbo-generator supplementing the batteries for longer flights.
The rechargeable battery packs would have needed to be replaced every six months after 1,000-1,500 cycles. The hybrid generator would have been used initially to meet FAA reserves for a planned range of 700 nm (1,300 km). It would eventually have been replaced with a third battery pack giving a 45-minute reserve.
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era
- Dominic Gates (October 4, 2018). "Rapidly shifting battery technology complicates Zunum's plans for hybrid electric airplane Originally". Seattle Times.
- Graham Warwick (Apr 5, 2017). "Boeing, JetBlue Back Hybrid-Electric Regional Startup". Aviation Week & Space Technology.
- Jeremy Bogaisky (Jul 2, 2019). "Boeing Backs Away From Zunum Aero, Founders Struggle To Raise Money After Laying Off Staff". Forbes.
- Graham Warwick (Jul 4, 2017). "Zunum's Software-Style Approach To Developing Electric Propulsion". Aviation Week & Space Technology. Regional-aircraft startup explores new ways to mature and improve propulsion systems.
- Dan Catchpole (January 3, 2019). "Zunum Runs Into Financing Trouble". AIN online.
- zunumwp. "Press Materials". Zunum Aero. Retrieved 2020-11-25.
- Gates, Dominic (November 23, 2020). "Collapsed hybrid-electric planemaker Zunum sues former partner Boeing, alleging misuse of trade secrets". Seattle Times.
- Hawkins, Andrew J. (2020-11-24). "Failed electric jet startup Zunum sues Boeing for fraud and misuse of trade secrets". The Verge. Retrieved 2020-11-25.
- Stephen Trimble (Oct 5, 2017). "Zunum launches hybrid-electric aircraft for regional market". Flightglobal.
- Graham Warwick (Oct 5, 2017). "Boeing-Backed Zunum's First Aircraft To Be 12-seat Commuter". Aviation Week & Space Technology.
- Graham Warwick (May 21, 2018). "JetSuite Is Launch Customer For Zunum's Hybrid-Electric Regional". Aviation Week Network.
- Michael Gubisch (4 Oct 2018). "Zunum picks Safran for developmental hybrid-electric commuter". Flightglobal.
- Graham Warwick (Oct 4, 2018). "Zunum Picks Safran Turbine For Hybrid-Electric Airliner". Aviation Week & Space Technology.
- Official website
- Gregory Polek (October 5, 2017). "Zunum Details Plans for First Hybrid-Electric Regional Aircraft". AIN online.
- Matt Knapp and Waleed Said (26 Apr 2018). "Zunum Aero's Hybrid Electric Airplane Aims To Rejuvenate Regional Travel". IEEE Spectrum.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
- "Zunum Aero brochure" (PDF). Zunum Aero. November 2018.
- "Investment memo" (PDF). Zunum Aero. June 2019.