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Hyundai Lands Bell Helicopter Expert

The carmaker is building an experienced team to get its air taxi operations off the ground
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When Hyundai Motor Group formed its Urban Air Mobility (UAM) Division six months ago, the company pledged to invest $1.5 billion to develop and commercialize flying autonomous taxis and related applications.

Now the company is adding a cadre of aerospace experts to lead the effort.

J. Scott Drennan (Image: Hyundai)

The latest addition is J. Scott Drennan, who has been appointed UAM’s vice president of research and development.

Drennan most recently was vice president of innovation at Bell Textron, where he was responsible for developing advanced configurations, technologies and vertical lift technologies for commercial and military applications. Drennan, who spent 25 years at Bell, was appointed an aeronautics committee member on the NASA Advisory Council in 2018.

Experienced Leadership Team

UAM is headed by Executive Vice President Jaiwon Shin, who joined Hyundai when the group was formed last October. Shin spent 31 years at NASA, most recently as associate administrator for the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate.

New hires earlier this year include:

  • Michael Whitaker, former FAA deputy administrator, as global head of policy
  • Pamela Cohn, founder and managing partner of aerospace consulting firm Ascension Global, as vice president and head of UAM’s global operations and strategy
  • Diana Marina Cooper, former senior vice president of policy and strategy at PrecisionHawk, as head of U.S. policy

UAM also hired several other Ascension executives. Cohn, who previously founded McKinsey’s unmanned aerial systems unit, says the company is working with policymakers and regulators in Asia, Europe and the U.S.

Elevating Partnership

At the CES electronics show in January, Hyundai announced a partnership with Uber’s Elevate unit and unveiled the prototype S-A1 vertical take-off and landing aircraft.

Building on earlier Uber Elevate designs, the four-passenger S-A1 is designed to take off vertically, transition to wing-borne lift while flying and then switch back to vertical flight to land. The all-electric power system, which features multiple rotors and propellers, can haul the vehicle to a top speed of 180 mph and has an estimated 60-mile range, according to the partners. The battery can be recharged in less than seven minutes.

S-A1 air taxi. (Image: Hyundai)

Hyundai and Uber plan to use the S-A1 for aerial ridesharing taxis in coming years to help reduce urban congestion. The vehicles initially will include a pilot, but eventually are expected to be capable of fully autonomous operation.

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