Intercontinental hybrid VTOL could fly halfway around the world
Aura Aerospace has proposed a crazy new take on advanced air mobility. The five-seat Ranger looks like Darth Vader's shuttle when it's folded up, but it promises to fly further than any normal airliner, with roof-to-roof vertical takeoff and landing.
Exactly how Aura proposes to do this is fairly simple. Vertical takeoff and landing is achieved using a coaxial octacopter system, with eight 70-inch (178-cm) two-blade props hanging fore and aft of the large main wing. This system gets you on and off the vertipad, and once you're airborne and the wing has folded out to its full 23-meter (75-ft) width, a pair of turbofan jet engines kick in to provide forward thrust.
Once in cruise flight and fully supported by the wings, the propellers slow to a halt and line themselves up with their support strut, and little retractable pontoons come out to cover them over for minimal drag. With the props thus stowed, the Ranger is free to accelerate to its monster 820 km/h (510 mph / Mach 0.66) cruise speed, a little slower than most airliners since it cruises in the thicker air at 10,000 ft (3,050 m) instead of 30,000 ft (9,150 m).
With full tanks of sustainable aviation fuel, Aura says the Ranger is capable of an 18,000-km (11,185-mile) range, or a brutal 22 hours of non-stop flight. For reference, a typical Airbus A380 flies a maximum of around 14,800 km (~9,200 miles) full of passengers. The Ranger promises to take you from the top of a building in New York City all the way to the middle of Adelaide, Australia, with juice to spare. And if juice does run out, the thing will still glide, Aura claims, and can happily land or take off on a runway where it suits.
Thankfully, the five-seat cabin will have a small galley and toilet to serve both ends of the hollow tubes of humanity it plans to transport for such long distances. It will presumably also have a means of ingress and egress, although exactly where on the airframe is unclear from these very early-stage renders.
The Ranger uses eVTOL technology, but it's otherwise much closer to an ultra-long range business jet in conception than an air taxi. And in that context, well, maybe it makes sense. Five seats is probably enough for a lot of business trips, and the ultra-rich might be happy to pay for a Darth Vader shuttle to take them on a private, intercontinental rooftop-to-rooftop hop. It'd certainly keep them well clear of the hoi polloi, even if the time saved commuting to the airport and back might get gobbled up by the Ranger's slightly slower speed.
This is not the first left-field aviation idea we've seen from Aura. In early 2021, we wrote about its pitch to swap out eVTOL battery packs for blast-chargeable ultracapacitors. In the meantime, it's been working on a single-seat Guardian G1 eVTOL it was planning to sell for US$185,000, as shown below in what has to be the most exciting video I've seen yet of an eVTOL not flying.
The Ranger is an interesting idea, and it might bring a certain degree of extra convenience to the lives of a very few very wealthy people. But its reliance on aviation fuel, sustainable or otherwise, means its days are numbered before it's lowered a wing, and there's a torturously long and hellishly expensive path between these renders and FAA-certified commercial manufacturing. We'd love to see one fly at full scale, but we don't like our chances.
Editor's note: as reader "nzairforce" points out in the comments below, it appears the G1 Guardian program might be on hold after a fire caused by an electrical component failure during manned testing. Luckily, nobody was hurt.
Source: Aura Aerospace