Airbus' Urban Air Mobility Roadmap leads to an electric future
The rapid modernization of the aerospace industry became evident in Paris this week when Airbus Group's recently appointed Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Paul Eremenko, rolled out the company's developing portfolio of urban air mobility solutions.
Eremenko is a distinct departure from previous CTOs in this tradition-steeped industry, as he hails from the disruptive technology end of town. Having just completed a two-year assignment as the inaugural CEO of the Airbus A3 Innovation Centre in San Jose, California, Eremenko previously worked on futuristic technologies at Google, Motorola and DARPA.
Airbus A3's brief is to explore technologies that are potentially disruptive to the organization's core business and Eremenko was ideally qualified for the task, having previously worked as Director of Engineering for Google's Advanced Technology and Projects group (ATAP), the tech behemoth's equivalent to Lockheed-Martin's skunkworks, where he headed Project Ara, the modular smartphone hardware ecosystem. Eremenko joined Google when it purchased Motorola, where he had conceived and headed the initial Project Ara.
Before that, Eremenko (inset above) ran the Tactical Technology Office (TTO) at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), where he was awarded the Distinguished Public Service Medal by the Office of the Secretary of Defence. The son of the Ukrainian-American mathematician Alexandre Eremenko (recipient of the prestigious Humboldt Prize in Mathematics), Paul has a bachelor's degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT, a Master's degrees in Aeronautics from Caltech, and a law degree from Georgetown University.
That's an impressive resume considering Eremenko just turned 36 years of age, and his appointment to the CTO role and his presentation entitled Building the Third Golden Ageof Aerospace, foretells great change within Airbus. Airbus seems to be the first of the big aerospace institutions to have grasped that it doesn't just make airplanes, but is a mobility company.
The above illustration is a slide from Eremenko's Airbus Media Day presentation. Three distinct air vehicles can be seen in the presentation slide, being the four-passenger CityAirbus (front left), Vahana (middle right) and a last-mile delivery Octacopter from the Skyways Project (bottom right).
It is common knowledge that Airbus A3 has been working with Uber, which is planning to add an airborne component to its car-based ride-sharing program, and A3 is already operating an on-demand helicopter booking platform named Voom in Sao Paulo, one of the world's most congested cities. Similar in nature and convenience to car-based Uber, Voom's aim is to "render helicopters accessible to a discerning mass-market consumer base, grow demand for passenger helicopter transportation, and, in the long-run, grow the total market for helicopters."
According to the 2016 Airbus Annual Report, "The development of electric and hybrid-propulsion aircraft is one of the company's key priorities for the future, and the CTO is leading this 'E-aircraft Roadmap' with the long-term goal of applying electric and hybrid-propulsion technologies to helicopters and regional airliners. Electric-powered thrust fans for aircraft will contribute to the aviation technology environmental targets of reductions of CO2 emissions by 75 percent, NOx emissions by 90 percent, and noise by 65 percent by 2050."
The Airbus Urban Air Mobility Roadmap
Regular New Atlas readers will have seen most of the milestones outlined on the Airbus Urban Air Mobility Roadmap in great detail, so we've added a brief description of each vehicle and links to the original stories.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the perspective offered by lining them all up together is that the most recent prototypes, Vahana and CityAirbus, stand a far greater chance of taking aviation mainstream than anything that we have seen previously. The air taxi model currently being successfully trialed in Sao Paulo with Voom might rapidly progress the adoption of multicopter aviation.
2010 | Cri Cri
The single-seat Cri Cri was shown at the 2010 Paris Air Show. Based on the popular French ultralights of the 1970s and built using composite materials, the twin electric motor Cri Cri had a take-off weight (including the pilot) of just 175 kg (386 lb) and could fly for 30 minutes at 60 knots (111 km/h, 69 mph).
2011 | e-Genius
The e-Genius electric aircraft made news in 2011 when it stayed aloft for over two hours while maintaining an average speed of 100 mph (160 km/h), all on a single 56-kWh battery pack.
2011 | DA36 E-Star
Developed by EADS in collaboration with Siemens and Diamond Aircraft, the DA36 E-Star was the world's first series-hybrid electric aircraft. It was based on the Diamond HK36 Super Dimona two-seat motor glider and was shown at the 2011 Paris Air Show. The DA-36 E-Star was powered by a 70-kW electric motor, with a small Wankel engine driving a generator as a range-extender.
2014 | E-Fan 1.0
Developed by Airbus Group (formerly EADS) with a consortium of European aerospace companies, the E-fan evolved from the Cri-Cri electric plane, which Airbus used as a test bed and flying laboratory for developing the battery and energy management technology used in the E-Fan. The two-seater E-fan was built with an all-composite construction and powered by two ducted, variable-pitch, electric fans fed by a series of 250-V lithium-ion polymer batteries.
2015 | E-Fan 1.1
On July 10, 2015, the Airbus E-Fan took off from Lydd Airport in England and flew 46 miles (74 km) to Calais (France) in 36 minutes at an altitude of about 3,500 ft. The parallels with the infancy of powered flight were obvious, with the first flight across the English Channel achieved by Louis Blériot in his Blériot XI on July 25, 1909. The record was not without controversy however.
2016 | Extra 330 L
The Extra 330LE aerobatic plane made its first flight in July 2016 and although the Siemens motor tips the scales at just 50 kg (110 lb), it is capable of delivering a continuous 260 kW. On March 23, 2017, the Extra 330LE was clocked at 337.5 km/h (209.7 mph) and officially became the fastest electric airplane with a take-off weight less than 1,000 kg (2,205 lb).
2016 | E-Fan 2.0
Billed as the "world's first series production electric plane", the E-Fan 2.0 was shown for the first time at the 51st Paris Air Show in 2015. Voltair, an Airbus subsidiary, is working with French manufacturer Daher-Socata on setting up a new production facility to produce the E-Fan 2.0, with deliveries expected in 2018.
2017 | Vahana
Much conjecture in Paris had it that the autonomous electric VTOL single seat Vahana had been crafted specifically for the needs of the Uber urban air taxi service, which Airbus A3 is known to have been working with. It is also envisaged that Vahana will be used for cargo delivery.
2018 | E-Aircraft System House
Airbus and Siemens set up a partnership in 2016 to research and develop hybrid-electric propulsion systems and a new facility to be known as the E-Aircraft Systems House in Ottobrunn was begun. A team comprising 200 staff drawn from both companies will work in this dedicated research lab for future electric and hybrid-electric technologies.
2018 | CityAirbus
CityAirbus is currently Airbus' most likely short-term solution for urban air commuting and appeared at the Paris Air Show at the Paris Air Lab booth. The electric vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) CityAirbus will carry up to four passengers and the plans suggest it could quickly go into service as a piloted helicopter without regulatory changes. Those plans call for the CityAirbus to begin autonomous operations once regulations are in place.
2019 | E-Fan X
Airbus plans to begin working on an ambitious future demonstrator version of the E-Fan concept shortly. The E-Fan X will require 2 megawatts of power.
2020 | New Single-Aisle Electric Aircraft
The "Holy Grail" for Airbus is the development of an electric single-aisle passenger aircraft and that's still some way off, as it is projected that 20 megawatts will be required from the engines.