The design and production of eVTOL is not only for startups looking to disrupt the air taxi market. In this part of Mexico Aviation and Aerospace Review’s “Tomorrow’s Flying Taxi, Today” series, we present two eVTOL projects that France-based plane and helicopter OEM Airbus develops.
Airbus’ Sillicon Valley R&D subsidiary A3 has designed, produced and started testing the first prototype of Vahana. This eVTOL is an electric, self-piloted eVTOL single-seat passenger aircraft powered by eight propellers placed in a tandem tilt-wing configuration.
A3 expects Vahana to be a feasible alternative to short-range transportation means such as cars or trains with similar commute costs but without passengers sitting on traffic for hours. Vahana is planned to offer aircraft-hailing services through an app. Passengers will be able to hail a Vahana aircraft, board it at the nearest helipad and fly without direct polluting emissions. According to A3, it may also be used for cargo delivery, emergency services, search and rescue missions or to deploy infrastructure in disaster sites.
To deliver security, Vahana will be equipped with sense-and-avoid technology to reduce the chance of human error. According to A3, Vahana will automatically perform security checks to ensure all critical systems are in order.
First sketched on a napkin in 2016, the first prototype of Vahana (dubbed Alpha One) made its maiden flight on Jan. 31, 2018. While Vahana’s full planned specifications have not become public yet, A3 has reported that the Alpha One prototype has a width of 6.2m, a length of 5.7m and a height of 2.8m. Its takeoff weight during the test flight was 745kg.
Alpha One’s first test flight was performed unmanned and fully autonomously. During the minute that its first air test lasted, Alpha One a used around eight percent of the total energy in its main battery pack.
Vahana’s project executive Zach Lovering said in an interview with PitchBook that the company currently focuses on collaborating with authorities to ensure certified self-piloted operations and is continuing to carry out product development.
He underlined the importance of electrification for the Vahana project. According to Lovering, direct-drive electric motors eliminate the need for costly engines, gearboxes and transmissions.
Airbus has designed a multi-passenger, automous eVTOL that aims to be easy to mass-produce and to deliver cost efficiency: the CityAirbus. This aircraft is projected to transport up to four passengers with little environmental footprint.
CityAirbus eight 100kW, direct-drive electric engines are planned to reach a cruise speed of 120km/h and its four 140kW batteries will give the aircraft an autonomy of 15 minutes.
The French aircraft manufacturer started making flight tests of small scale models of the aircraft in 2016 and plans to develop and test a full-size prototype in 2018 before introducing the CityAirbus as a feasible inner-city transportation means in 2023.
Check out the first installment of MAAR’s “Tomorrow’s Flying Taxi, Today” series here!