Aircraft

Airbus' return to the eVTOL air taxi is a bit of a head-scratcher

Airbus' return to the eVTOL ai...
The NextGen CityAirbus eVTOL shoots surprisingly low, with four seats, a top speed of just 120 km/h, and a disappointing 80-km range
The NextGen CityAirbus eVTOL shoots surprisingly low, with 4 seats, a top speed of just 120 km/h, and a disappointing 80 km range
View 5 Images
The NextGen CityAirbus eVTOL shoots surprisingly low, with four seats, a top speed of just 120 km/h, and a disappointing 80-km range
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The NextGen CityAirbus eVTOL shoots surprisingly low, with 4 seats, a top speed of just 120 km/h, and a disappointing 80 km range
"There's a Mr. Wayne on the line, he wants to know if we can do it in black?"
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"There's a Mr. Wayne on the line, he wants to know if we can do it in black?"
A stunning V-tail with two tilting rotors at the tips and a wing surface between them
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A stunning V-tail with two tilting rotors at the tips and a wing surface between them
An arresting rear view
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An arresting rear view
Airbus expects the new aircraft to be certified by 2025
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Airbus expects the new aircraft to be certified by 2025
View gallery - 5 images

Airbus has been quiet on the eVTOL front since its original CityAirbus multirotor and Vahana programs shut down, but at its "Pioneering Sustainable Airspace" summit, the company released details and images of a new electric air taxi it expects to get certified by 2025 – a clean-sheet design with a surprisingly humble set of capabilities.

The new "NextGen" design is very pretty to look at. It appears to be a hybrid lift and cruise type design, with six vertical lift props extending out on short arms from a wide, forward-swept front wing that looks a bit like something Batman might fly when viewed from above.

Additional lift is supplied by two more rotors at the rear, which are part of a chunky V-tail design joined at the top with an additional wing surface. The rear rotors appear to be mounted on very compact tilt-rotor systems, enabling reasonably efficient forward flight – although the lift rotors don't appear to stow or fold away, so they'll add parasitic weight and drag in cruise mode.

"There's a Mr. Wayne on the line, he wants to know if we can do it in black?"
"There's a Mr. Wayne on the line, he wants to know if we can do it in black?"

It's only a four-seater; Airbus will initially take up one of those seats with a pilot, but the French company is definitely looking ahead to a point where these things will fly themselves autonomously.

It won't go particularly fast or far, either, a fact that's really got us scratching our heads. Airbus is estimating top speeds of just 120 km/h (75 mph) and a range of just 80 km (50 miles) between charges of its ~60-kg (132-lb) lithium-ion battery pack. Those figures are frankly abysmal in the emerging eVTOL world, particularly among similar winged designs where speed and range figures are routinely three times what Airbus is promising here.

Considering the immense effort and expense involved in bringing these eVTOLs to market, and the extra complexity and expense involved in making a transitioning airframe, it seems bizarre to us that a company with Airbus's resources would shoot so low on the spec sheet on a project this important at the dawn of a new air mobility movement.

A stunning V-tail with two tilting rotors at the tips and a wing surface between them
A stunning V-tail with two tilting rotors at the tips and a wing surface between them

Perhaps the team sees an advantage in keeping costs low, but every extra minute these things spend hooked up to a charger during peak operating times is money lost for whoever's operating it. Perhaps this is specifically an urban design and there's a faster, longer-range design being developed in parallel. But it's certainly got us wondering.

Airbus is highly conscious of the noise factor – eVTOLs are many times quieter than helicopters, but should they begin flooding our cities in great numbers, noise will likely be the biggest negative they bring with them. This design, says the company, should create noise levels under 70 dB in the landing phase – about the level of regular traffic, or a vacuum cleaner.

The company will progress the design through the necessary engineering, prototyping, testing and certification phases, and says it's expecting to have the NextGen CityAirbus flying in 2023, and fully certified by 2025. It doesn't plan to operate a service itself, and will instead sell the aircraft to service providers.

Check out a short video below.

CityAirbus NextGen

Source: Airbus

View gallery - 5 images
13 comments
13 comments
David
It's difficult to tell if the tail-boom assembly is only to support the rear rotors, or if it also has control surfaces. The hi-res photos on the Airbus site appear to show control surfaces, but they look quite chunky. If there is no aerodynamic purpose, would there being an overall weight saving if the tail-boom were redesigned as an open truss structure, hence improving payload capacity or range. As a suburb-hopper, increasing payload capacity could prove useful for a point-to-point cargo variant.
dan
50 miles at low speed is not really a lot... but if AIRBUS cannot do better with batteries, why should others, e.g. virtually any start up, even well-financed ones. AIRBUS knows a lot about flying, certification, safety... It will be interesting to see, if at least AIRBUS can fulfil its modest promises.
Towerman
What kind of cursed abomination is this ? ?
The Original CityAirbus from airbus shined in every aspect considering how long its been in in beta phase i thought we would have had a flying released product announcement ! !

A true let down Airbus, scratch this unholy cursed concept before anyone realises and Complete the original CityAirBus already ! ! !
paleochocolate
Considering there is literally 0 aircraft taxis flying in this segment there is no real benchmark to say what is humble and what isn't at this point in time.
jerryd
This is why multicopters are not the solution. The solution is eliminate everything but the cabin and add 2 simple coaxial rotors of less diameter than this fiasco will double speed and 3x range.
Why is simple, such rotors make 20lbs/kw vs those small props only make 4-5lb/kw of lift. So instead of all that multicopter weight you can carry batteries and payload/passengers.
This style is steered by leaning the rotor in the direction you want to go and no computer needed as dynamically stable without directional input, it just hangs out. KISS
dan
@ jerryd: KISS, you should get paid for your advice. anything else than KISS will most likely not work efficiently nor ecologically nor be financeable (unless you are a billionaire). KISS
dan
@ paleochocolate: uh, you made a good point, very true.
Towerman
@jerryd
Coaxial systems are too mechanically complex and a pain to maintain and intimidating, multicopters IS the answer and the imminent future. KISS at its best !
Seasherm
I couldn't help but notice that they showed fancy graphics for more than half of the video before the image of the actual plane. Either we all have plenty of time to waste, or this project isn't very proud of its product.
PrometheusGoneWild.com
None of the big companies are taking this new technology (and possible markets) seriously.
I look at Elon Musk charging into markets and single handedly creating markets or radically changing them. And I’m left with the impression all these CEOs are very nice accountants who don’t know their a single thing about technology…..
Beta Technologies is a tiny company and is ahead of all of them….
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