The promise of electric aviation has faced challenges due to limited battery range and a lengthy certification process. However, Regent, a startup co-founded by CEO Billy Thalheimer, has found inspiration in electric seagliders to overcome these obstacles. Thalheimer, a former employee of Aurora Flight Sciences, believes that combining hydro-foiling watercraft and electric aviation holds the key to creating sustainable electric transportation with a range of 50 to hundreds of miles.
Electric seagliders operate like boats when docked or in harbors, but take off from wave-tolerant hydrofoils and fly just one wingspan above the surface of open water. These seagliders fall under a vehicle classification known as a wing-in-ground effect vehicle (WIG), which is subject to maritime regulations both domestically and internationally. By obtaining certification through maritime law, Regent can navigate a more streamlined regulatory process while maintaining safety standards.
Seagliders exclusively provide transportation over water, flying within the wingspan of the water’s surface. Their proximity to the surface enables improved aerodynamic efficiency and range due to the ground effect, a cushion of air near the surface. Regent claims that seagliders can reach cruise speeds of up to 180 mph and travel up to 180 miles on a single charge. With technological advancements, battery ranges of 350 to 500 miles may be achievable by the end of the decade.
Investors have shown significant interest in Regent’s concept. The startup recently announced the successful completion of a $60 million Series A funding round, co-led by 8090 Industries and Founders Fund. Several other investors participated, including Point72, Caffeinated Capital, Mark Cuban, UAE’s Strategic Development Fund, Future Planet Capital, Japan Airlines Innovation Fund, Yamato Holdings, and Lockheed Martin. Regent has now raised a total of $90 million to date.
The newly acquired funds will be used to develop and test a proof-of-concept prototype. Regent also plans to expand its team from 55 employees to approximately 100 by 2024. The startup aims to begin trials next summer and conduct its first human flight by the end of 2024. Regent has two products in its pipeline: Viceroy, a 12-passenger vehicle expected to be in service by the mid-decade, and Monarch, a 100-passenger seaglider.
Regent has signed a memorandum of understanding with Japan Airlines, further building on the airline’s previous investment through JAL Innovation Fund. The partnership aims to establish seaglider operations in Japan. While Japan is a key market, other potential areas for seaglider operations include Miami, the Bahamas, the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii, and international markets around the Mediterranean Sea, the English Channel, and the North Sea.