The news doesn’t seem to run dry with potential VTOL (Vertical Takeoff & Landing) aircraft, which often double as flying cars. The AirMule — no wait, it’s Cormorant … no, now it’s called the Urban Aeronautics CityHawk VTOL aircraft. … Are we in the Jetsons’ futuristic days yet?
I Dream of a VTOL Electric Aircraft
I live in Long Beach, California, and I hate going to Los Angeles, a city I otherwise enjoy. The reason is simple — traffic takes all the fun from commuting and going somewhere for entertainment. So much for relaunching the economy. 🙂 Despite owning fun cars to drive, I have to plan my trips very carefully and wake up in the wee hours of the day in order to escape the inferno of bumper-to-bumper LA traffic. Los Angeles has now reclaimed its worst traffic city title from Atlanta. If I want to get to Santa Monica with as little frustration as possible, I need to leave at 4:00 am. Anything after ensures I’m stuck in traffic and turns an otherwise 30-minute drive into a nightmarish 1½ hours of stalled traffic. Days like these, I wish I had a flying car.
Although electric flying cars have made the rounds one media outlets lately, the problems that still remain are battery weight and price. We’ve covered a few intriguing flying car projects on CleanTechnica, and another potentially interesting company to add to that list is the Israeli-based Urban Aeronautics and its CityHawk VTOL electric aircraft.
Urban Aeronautics Introduces the CityHawk VTOL Aircraft
First introduced as a military craft called the AirMule, the Urban Aeronautics AirMule VTOL aircraft has since continued its development as the Cormorant — which is, interestingly enough, a seabird. The company is now looking at more civilian applications via its Metro Skyways subsidiary and has introduced its CityHawk VTOL.
So … what was once known as the AirMule, which then became the Cormorant, is now the VTOL hydrogen and probably electric aircraft CityHawk. Glad we got that out of the way, since the CityHawk is actually based on the Cormorant platform, itself reworked via another subsidiary of the company, Tactical Robotics. But don’t worry, the confusion stops here.
Using its patented Fancraft technology, which relies on internal rotor blades instead of the more conventional exposed blade setup used with helicopters and drones, this design allows the CityHawk to take off and land without damaging blades in close quarters (i.e., say, your driveway).
Technically speaking, the project calls for a jet fuel propulsion means using a hydrogen liquid 700-bar compressed system, until other technologies mature, according to Urban Aeronautics. What sounded promising is that instead of using complex and not that terribly efficient hydrogen fuel cell stacks, the project would feed hydrogen directly into a turboshaft engine, which would cleanly burn it. Hydrogen is a terrific and clean energy source when burned, but not a specifically efficient energy medium when stored and processed through fuel cells. This also opens the door to hydrogen turbines and hybrid electric motors.
Metro Skyways Announces Four-Passenger VTOL Aircraft
Using a compact car-sized design with four passengers in mind, the CityHawk would have no exposed rotors or wings and zero carbon emissions. The company says it can meet all of its design criteria and pass an eventual FAA/EASA certiﬁcation. It hopes this will open up future electric commercial viability.
Tested in flight on the Cormorant, which so far has accumulated north of 200 ﬂight tests, the CityHawk’s ﬁrst public demonstration will take place soon at an airshow. The company hasn’t given the place and location yet.
Initially piloted by human pilots, the vehicle will be autonomous capable, since its Cormorant prototype already ﬂies fully autonomously.
Pragmatically, Urban Aeronautics says that, so far, the CityHawk relies on fuel cells but is looking into other power systems, including batteries.
What happens in the case of a mid-flight problem? The CityHawk comes equipped with a standard rocket-deployed parachute to bring you and its passengers safely to the ground. Mum on what happens to the aircraft, but we’ll let you figure it out.
Does the Urban Aircraft’s CityHawk VTOL Aircraft Have a Future?
We’re sure the answer to that question is a potential yes. Electric VTOL aircraft are coming along well and are about a decade away from commercial reality. But we’ll have to wait to see how quickly battery technology and hydrogen technology evolve, since this VTOL would have to rely on a yet nonexistent hydrogen fueling distribution system. While it makes plenty of sense to burn hydrogen, since its high temperature burns any carbon chain molecules, we would rather see a battery pack powered by clean energy means. In the meantime, we’ll keep a close watch on the Urban Aeronautics CityHawk VTOL aircraft.