This UM professor is building a next gen eVTOL, and NASA wants to bring it to Mars

By Riley Kaminer

The electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft revolution is coming, and South Florida is shaping up to be one of the first places we’ll see these in action.

University of Miami professor Ge-Cheng Zha is one step ahead of even the most tech-forward of eVTOL builders. In 2016, Zha launched CoFlow, a Miami startup developing the first fixed-wing eVTOL, which it calls MAGGIE (Mars Aerial Ground and Global Intelligent Explorer). Since then, Zha and team have been busy doing R&D and raising almost $3 million from government and university grants, plus a family and friends round of $700,000. Now the team is looking to raise a $1 million pre-seed to help get the aircraft off the ground.

“We’d like to have a 400 pound prototype in two years and our certification in five years,” Zha told Refresh Miami. Getting there could cost upwards of $20 million, but Zha is confident first and foremost in the product itself. 

University of Miami professor Ge-Cheng Zha

Already with 18 patents under their belts, CoFlow has developed an aircraft that uses flaps to enable its propellers to always face forward. This unique design has given CoFlow noticed – particularly from NASA, which is exploring the possibility of putting MAGGIE on Mars.

“It is very difficult to fly on Mars because the air is very thin,” explained Zha. The key metric in play is the so-called “lift coefficient” – essentially a measure of how effectively the wing converts the energy of the airflow into lift force. Zha asserts that MAGGIE’s lift coefficient is 10x higher than the competition. 

The idea is that MAGGIE would be able to perform the first global-scale atmospheric mission at Mars and revolutionize our capability of exploring almost the entirety of the Martian surface. “It’s a monumental concept, but we need to undertake more studies,” said Zha, noting that he hopes that MAGGIE will catch the eye of billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, who are interested in colonizing Mars. 

Of course, MAGGIE would work well on Earth as well – and have about 50% longer of a range here compared to Mars, where its full battery can last about 100 miles at altitude of around 3,000 feet.

“Aerodynamics haven’t changed since World War II,” noted Zha, emphasizing how today’s aircraft look very similar to how they looked 80 years ago.

The applications for this technology go beyond simply aircraft. For instance, Zha shared that large cargo ships can leverage this technology to create rigid wind sails that can reduce carbon emissions by 20-50% (that’s a lot of Teslas). This innovation can also be applied to wind turbines.

 “Our vision is to transform the whole industry,” he said. From Miami to Mars and beyond.

Rendering shows how a large cargo ship can leverage this technology. At top of post: A graphic depiction of Mars Aerial and Ground Global Intelligent Explorer (MAGGIE). Photos provided by CoFlow.


Riley Kaminer