The War Zone was the first to bring you a story about a highly exotic aircraft photographed at Southern California Logistics Airport near Victorville last April. Going off of just low-grade cell phone image, there was much speculation about what the aircraft was and who it belonged to. Was it a testbed for an alternate fuel like hydrogen? Was it prototype for an EADS/Airbus VoltAir electric airplane? Was it some crazy new super-efficient private plane? Some thought it couldn't fly at all, and that it was a film prop. Now we not only know that it is very much a real aircraft—one that is cloaked in secrecy—but also who it belongs to, and what its purpose may be.
First off, the aircraft's registry states that it belongs to a company called Otto Aviation Group LLC, based in Yorba Linda, California. Not much information is readily available about the company, but it is affiliated with a number of patents, including ones showing almost the identical design of the aircraft above, as well as many of its components.
A document from the Southern California Logistic Airport dated April of 2017 details the execution of a lease agreement for an 11,000-square-foot facility to house a small prototype aircraft program that will also be tested at the airport. If successful, it could bring as many as 150 jobs to the site for FAA certification, and many more for production. The tenant named is Otto Aviation Group LLC.
The company appears to be affiliated with Applied Physicist William M. Otto, who was also a key player at a firm called Otto Labs. Mr. Otto was previously the chief scientist for the B-1's avionics system development program, and held many other positions at North American-Rockwell. According to one academic honor society website, "Otto has retired from active participation in Otto Laboratories Inc., and assumed the presidency of Otto Aviation, managing the design and production of extremely low-drag aircraft."
The Vice President of Otto Labs, Ed Cababa, is also affiliated with Otto Aviation Group LLC. Cababa has a background working with Honda in vehicle handling and testing. A tax certificate lists both Otto and Cababa as owners of Otto Aviation Group LLC and that they "manufacture composite parts for a prototype aircraft."
The registration also provides us with a designation for this mystery plane—the Celera 500L. It is the only aircraft registered by the company with the FAA. The War Zone contacted the Otto Aviation Group by phone and they said they could not comment on the aircraft in any way.
This new high resolution image shows the rear of the airframe, which is the perfect companion photo to the lower resolution, front aspect image that we posted last April. We can now clearly see the five bladed, variable pitch, "pusher" propeller that will provide thrust. The airframe also features what appears to be all-moving vertical and horizontal stabilizers, and long, slender wings that are likely optimized for laminar flow.
The Bell X-1 like teardrop fuselage design, which includes a cockpit windscreen seamlessly blended into the fuselage, gives the aircraft a large internal volume and high aerodynamic efficiency. It's safe to say that efficiency is what this aircraft is primarily about. Even the prop size looks small in relation to the overall aircraft, which would point to the possibility that it makes very good use out of the thrust it has on hand.
The big question is what type of powerplant does this aircraft leverage? The design's large internal volume could be indicative of a new fuel source, or even that it could be battery powered—or at least that it may feature one of these new propulsion technologies at some point in the future. On the other hand, the FAA registration states the aircraft's engine as reciprocating, so it is possible that it could have a totally mundane powerplant—at least for now.
We do get an peek inside the engine bay in the photo above, so maybe our engineer commenters will be able to make some guesses as to what is going on in there. It's worth noting that some of the most prominent aerospace engine manufacturers have a heavy presence at Victorville, although we can't draw a direct connection between them and this aircraft at this time.
It all comes down to the question of what is the aircraft? Who is the Otto Aviation team who built it? What are they trying to achieve? We are getting a clearer picture that at least one major goal is to prove the aerodynamic merits of the aircraft's exotic design. And we know that a production aircraft based on this design is part of Otto Aviation's plans. But will this design be paired with a new propulsion technology that can take advantage of its aerodynamic efficiency as part of a grander play to revolutionize aviation?
We'll just have to wait and see.
A huge thanks to Ryan Notestine for allowing us to use his photo, to our great friend Matt Hartman of Shorealone Films for the assist, and to Joe Trevithick for helping with research for this piece.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com