“We’ve seen more progress in lightweight aviation in the past decade than in the previous fifty years.” This was Kurt Sillén’s introduction to a TEDx talk he gave back in 2012 titled “Small Aircraft Revolution” before an audience at Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.
Now, six years later, a new horizon is opening up. As an investor and board member of Blackwing Sweden – the country’s first manufacturer of civil aircraft in decades – Sillén’s commitment is beginning to pay off.
“Blackwing is having a disruptive impact. Experienced pilots who are used to flying larger class aircraft are usually not the keenest customers for lightweight models, but they consider this airplane to be a premium upgrade,” he explains.
The ultralight Blackwing airplane is manufactured in Eslöv, Skåne region, southern Sweden. With a price tag of around 210,000 Euro, it has been getting its fair share of attention as orders continue to stream in from Germany, France and further afield.
“The first time I flew the prototype I knew that Blackwing was unique and I’ve piloted many airplanes,” Sillén enthuses. “The ultralight fuselage means it can fly circles around other light sport aircraft. It has a 10-hour flight range and consumes less fuel than a modern car.”
The aviator’s dream
With a carbon-fibre fuselage that won the prestigious Red Dot Design Award in 2016, an empty weight of just 325 kg, fully digitised GPS instruments and a tested top speed of 400 km/h, Blackwing’s ultralight aircraft is setting pulses racing among aviation enthusiasts across Europe.
It’s easy to see why. In terms of range alone, the airplane can fly from Sweden to the south of France and back again before needing a refuel.
But beyond cutting-edge specs, Blackwing’s remarkable story is about the journey of its founder and CEO, the Swedish aerospace engineer and aviation aficionado Niklas Anderberg. While working at Saab some 15 years ago, he dreamt of designing his own airplane for private use.
It was no sooner said than done. As Anderberg assembled a team of skilled engineers and turned out the first commercial models, Blackwing began to capture the affection of buyers.
“Most small aircraft need landing strips of around 600 metres in length. Blackwing, which is equipped with a Rotax 100hp engine, can take off and land on runways of just 150 metres. This enables point to point travel as more airfields become available. You can even land in rural fields,” says Anderberg, who has sold 20 airplanes so far.
Carbon fibre: a new frontier
Blackwing’s original blueprint sprung from a KTH project, but it was Anderberg’s bold idea of reimagining the design using carbon fibre that set a milestone for the ultralight class.
Today, the airplane’s entire fuselage is manufactured using a textured carbon fibre material called Textreme from a specialist supplier in Borås, some 60 km from Gothenburg. Even the cabling is made from Swedish carbon fibre.
“Lightweight airplanes are becoming more advanced than larger aircraft which is a new trend,” Anderberg points out. “I can carry a fully equipped wing of this airplane under one arm.
“Carbon fibre also has greater mechanical strength than fibre glass,” he continues. “Blackwing is tested under g-forces of +12/-8 which is a record. No other aircraft has been certified with this type of advanced stress level testing.”
Ramping up for growth
Sweden is now back on the map for civil aircraft manufacturing since the Saab 2000 airplane ended production in 1997. Over the past two years, Blackwing’s executive team has paved the way for growth with plans for a new high-end, scalable aircraft factory.
As Kurt Sillén explains, growth stage financing had to be secured coupled with finding a suitable factory location on or near an existing airfield with a hard surface runway for flight tests.
The choice of expanding in southern Sweden, he says, was a “no brainer”.
“All of Blackwing’s engineers have their roots in the Skåne region. Sweden has a strong tradition of both aircraft manufacturing and carbon fibre development. Our proximity to European customers also makes it a perfect base from which to operate.”
“Our digitised production line means we have great potential for scaling up operations,” Sillén adds. “We carry out advanced testing and computer simulations at a level rivalled only by giants such as Airbus or the military aircraft industry.”
Innovation is also about striking smart, strategic partnerships and Blackwing is currently working in joint research projects with Saab, the graphene specialist 2Dfab and Vinnova.
As for the push toward electric aircraft, Kurt Sillén doesn’t rule out the future possibility of an all-electric Blackwing airplane landing on the market.
Thanks to the ultralight carbon fibre design, he says Blackwing can stay in the air longer than most aircraft with extraordinary performance, and it has “plenty of space for batteries.”