Aircraft

eHang promises huge range with its new autonomous eVTOL air taxi

eHang promises huge range with...
EHang's new lift-and-cruise VT30 puts a serious long-range air taxi in the company's portfolio
EHang's new lift-and-cruise VT30 puts a serious long-range air taxi in the company's portfolio
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EHang's new lift-and-cruise VT30 puts a serious long-range air taxi in the company's portfolio
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EHang's new lift-and-cruise VT30 puts a serious long-range air taxi in the company's portfolio
EHang is going for small, lightweight and fully autonomous, with just two passengers
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EHang is going for small, lightweight and fully autonomous, with just two passengers
The company has built a full-scale prototype, which looks pretty uncomfortable to get in and out of
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The company has built a full-scale prototype, which looks pretty uncomfortable to get in and out of
The VT-30 has already flown in vertical takeoff and landing tests
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The VT-30 has already flown in vertical takeoff and landing tests
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China's most prominent eVTOL manufacturer has announced a new long-range "lift and cruise" aircraft for inter-city travel. The EHang VT-30 will take two passengers up to 300 km (186 miles) under completely autonomous control.

EHang has been flying simpler multicopter designs for several years now and, remarkably for this sector, the company has not been shy about putting people in them. EHang founder Hu Huazhi flew to work in an EH116 back in 2019, for example, and the company has gone so far as to let members of the public take some scenic test flights in the EH216 in cities all over China, including right over populated areas.

This kind of activity highlights one of EHang's key advantages in the eVTOL sector: China will not be following US or European aviation authorities in its approach to advanced air mobility, as we discussed in our recent interview with Sergio Cecutta on the AAM "reality index." It's blazing its own trail forward, with EHang front and center. None of EHang's aircraft make provisions for a pilot, so the key here will be accelerating the certification of autonomous passenger aircraft – something that most European and American companies are viewing as a five-to-10-year challenge.

"Unmanned aviation is an integral part of the construction of intelligent civil aviation and may become the primary form of transportation in the future," said Shijun Yin, Chief Engineer of the Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC), as the CAAC and EHang met last month with the "unprecedented" aim to officially advance the certification process for the EH216. "The Government and companies should work together to promote the development of unmanned aerial vehicles and adhere to high-quality standards when building the civil aviation infrastructure. Both the applicant and CAAC should have innovation mindset in the certification process while benchmarking international standards."

Interesting stuff. Either way, EHang's multicopter designs may be simplistic and thus potentially easier to get through a certification process, but like all multicopter designs, they can't go very fast, or fly very far on a battery charge. The two-seat EH216 tops out at 130 km/h (80 mph) and with its maximum payload of 220 kg (485 lb) on board, its range is severely limited at 35 km (22 miles). It'll need to sit on a charger between cross-town flights.

Longer trips require winged aircraft for efficient flight, and EHang has been talking for some time now about adding a long-range aircraft to its stable. Today, we get our first look at it with the public launch of the VT-30.

The company has built a full-scale prototype, which looks pretty uncomfortable to get in and out of
The company has built a full-scale prototype, which looks pretty uncomfortable to get in and out of

This is a lift-and-cruise design, with eight VTOL props stacked coaxially on four propulsion pods balanced nicely around a small teardrop cabin, and a single pusher prop behind it. A wide wing provides lift for efficient forward flight, and thanks to a set of wheeled landing gear, the VT-30 will be able to take off and land on runways where they're available, as well as helipads where they're not.

EHang says this thing will travel up to 300 km on a single charge of its as-yet-unspecified battery pack, enabling flight times up to 100 minutes. These are very impressive figures for the sector, but we assume they're only achievable with conventional runway takeoff and landing, and that power-hungry VTOL operations will shorten that range considerably. While no top speed or cruise speed has been announced, you can expect it to be significantly quicker than the EH216, and possibly capable of speeds around the 200-km/h (120-mph) range.

Compared to the lift-and-cruise Voloconnect recently launched by Volocopter, the VT-30's different approach is very clear. Where the majority of major players in this field are working on four-, five-, or even seven-seat air taxis, EHang's two-seater looks tiny and lightweight, closer to something like Wisk's Cora. The Wisk comparison is particularly relevant, since the Cora is also completely autonomous. Ditching the considerable weight of a pilot and extra passenger seats will definitely help squeeze useful range out of a battery.

The VT-30 has already flown in vertical takeoff and landing tests
The VT-30 has already flown in vertical takeoff and landing tests

EHang says the VT-30 is "geared towards inter-city travels among city clusters (such as the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, Yangtze River Delta, Bohai Rim, etc.)." It's already prototyped at full scale, and the company says it's already flown in vertical takeoff and landing tests, with a lot more testing to be done in the coming years.

“Our passenger-grade AAV EH216 is already fully equipped to travel in the cities with its lightweight and streamlined structure, and the launch of the VT-30 provides a powerful complement to the inter-city air traffic network by meeting needs for covering longer distance,” says Mr. Huazhi Hu, Founder, Chairman and CEO of EHang, “Moving forward, these two product series will be used as core development for a service-oriented operations strategy to improve the safety, durability and capacity for carrying both passengers and goods. We will work continuously to obtain regulatory certification for our various AAV products, including the VT-30, and provide a more convenient and efficient public urban air mobility operational services.”

Source: EHang

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14 comments
14 comments
Towerman
Looks promising, we need the regulations to step into high gear so we can start to see EVTOL's be implemented on a larger scale.
aki009
The hardware is promising. But I would not trust fully autonomous software until after the first few dozen smoking holes in the ground have provided motivation to properly debug it. There's a reason why flight software is so incredibly expensive. So count me as interested if I'm piloting it, but otherwise absolutely not.
Daishi
What is to stop someone from building a design like this that leverages electric props to lift vertically but uses a completely standard combustion fueled prop for actual flight? eVTOL's seem to be able to take off and land but have super limited actual range and it would address that. The downside of traditional craft isn't the flying part it's the need for a runway so why not just set out to overcome that part with electric powered lift and stop there for now? You can replace the main petrol prop with an electric one later when when battery tech makes it possible.
paul314
I guess in a megalopolis without good ground transit, something like this will be the only option.
jerryd
More stupid inefficient dead end multicopters sadly. A lot of high speed small props only make 25% of the lift of a 2 rotor system like the Mars Helicopter.
Not only that but inherently stable no computer needed with few simple parts to go wrong, weight, cost too much.
Fact is that and the cabin is all you need saving all that wing, props, motors, etc weight which can be put into battery, range, payload.
KISS
The other type is again large props on very STOL aircraft that can take off, land in a plane's length or 2.
With good wing, prop area they are very efficient and perfect for long range low cost EV planes.
You can't have a viable EV aircraft if you are only 25% as efficient and weigh too much vs better designs.
Nelson Hyde Chick
This is going to make the urban environment so much louder and only benefit the wealthy.
niio
Only in the world of eVTOL can 180 miles be considered huge range.
guzmanchinky
I like Daishi's idea! But this thing looks amazing, how I would love to own something like this myself. I would like to fly it (I have a license), but have a computer prevent me from doing anything stupid. The honest truth is that the vast majority of crashes are pilot error...
Towerman
@ Aki009

Multicopter software and hardware has long been at a stage ready for commercial deployment.
No need for extensive testing from scratch. It's Superior Robust as is. There will always be a pilot inside the vehicle or outside as a backup because the regulation industry does not understand the reliability of the craft yet, the engineers and pilots do however, they have been flying them for a decade already.
The software and hardware has already been perfected.

@ Jerryd
More Spam from you and your fellow fossil fuel lobbyists.
You have it all backwards, a 2 rotor system has many complicated maintenance prone mechanical parts, the footprint is much larger and more intimidating.
Whats the problem with a computer ? You clearly have no understanding about Multicopters whatsoever, Multicopter computers have been perfected and are more reliable than any ICE controlled system. It very reliably enhances the preciseness of control.
And no sorry it weighs a feather, you actually still think it is a computer as in a 70s style pc box ?? you have lots to learn.

And cost is cheaper not more, although the system is complicated, the parts are super simple to replace and maintain (if ever this will bee needed)

The Efficiency gained in electrics starts at the motors itself, as well as prop design, your thumb sucked calculations is totally flawed.
Towerman
@ Nelson Hyde

Spamming the same nonsense on every post without reading nor understanding the article shows your ignorance and understanding of Multicopters.
Only available to the Wealthy ??? NO sorry entirely wrong, Helicopters are only available to the very rich and wealthy. And thats not all, they come with mammoth maintenance costs.

Multicopters will cut costs for the general public by at least 70% A golden age awaits us.

And again NO they are not loud, if you listen carefully you might here the pleasant soft hum of the JOBY EVTOL.

@Nioo

So what, it's enough for a huge part of the population, so needless comment. Range will improve with time for different markets with time.