Airbus electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) development might not be as fast-paced as startups’ development, but it is making progress nonetheless. Here’s what’s new with the Airbus Vahana eVTOL.
Vahana Takes Off With More Details
The Airbus Vahana eVTOL demonstrator just completed the 100th test flight of its Alpha One full-size aircraft. This comes on the heels of an interesting Airbus video from AIN in which Eduardo Dominquez-Puerto, Airbus Head of Urban Air Mobility, talked about how the company is well placed to take full advantage of the eVTOL urban air mobility (UAM) race. The team shared with us some more information on its progress.
Aside from a little poke at the aviation startup world, Airbus’s A^3 is a testbed for its future urban air mobility (UAM) adventures, as per the company’s blog. Matt Deal, who heads the flight test and integration process, as well as test engineer Nico Kokocinski shared more details on the Vahana program.
The A^3 by Airbus team flies the Vahana at the Pendleton Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Test Range in Pendleton, Oregon. The team explained how the fully autonomous Vahana flies on its own but is also closely monitored by at least seven engineers. From the first flight on January 2018 to its full transition in May of 2019, the Vahana project is maturing. While it is technically still a project, Airbus has said it is not meant to be sold but used as a testbed.
The full-scale technical demonstrator goes beyond what simulation only can do. It shows the real-life behavior and performance of the aircraft. The team demonstrated that the general configuration and control logic are sound with full-scale flights. The team was able to prove its aeroelastic effects work as anticipated.
The Vahana flew 12 “build-up” flights — intermediate speed demonstrations — that show the stability and performance in hover and cruise modes with speeds of up to 100 kts (~115 mph, 185 km/h). What we’ve learned of particular interest is that the batteries can be swapped in fewer than 10 minutes. Two 300 lb lithium-ion battery packs slide in and out of the aircraft, much the same way an EV battery swap station operates, as you can see from the official picture below.
The self-piloted Vahana is in direct control and stays within the confines of its predefined flight plans. The company is testing climbs, descents, turns, as well as a series of maneuvers designed to reveal its handling qualities. Airbus makes a point about having “at least seven engineers and technicians” present for each flight to monitor the aircraft. The is showing how the aircraft can return safely to its starting position for a landing or, if impossible, it activates a parachute.
Safety and noise are big concerns these days whether legitimate or fueled by the media. We do know from various simulations that noise will be less than with traditional helicopters. What is left to be measured is what will be the noise levels of many eVTOL aircraft and other electric fixed-wing aircraft flying at once. We can take a look at our interview of Lucas di Grassi, in which he told me that all Formula E race cars on the track were as “noisy” as one Formula 1 car. We’ll have to wait for a real-live scenario to measure this, but it seems like a good analogy and rule of thumb according to the various sources I have heard simulating eVTOL and electric conventional takeoff and landing (eCTOL) aircraft noise. They will be quieter than the buzz we have over our heads from current internal combustion engine aircraft.
The rest of the blog makes for an interesting read as the duo takes us on a trip of what a typical test day looks like.
I’ve enjoyed reading the Airbus Vahana post, as it shows how the team works and the amount of precaution it is taking to make sure the public sees that safety is at the heart of Airbus, as we hear in the news often.
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