Vertical Aerospace begins eVTOL flight tests, with a pilot on board
UK company Vertical Aerospace has celebrated the first flight of its spectacular full-scale VX4 eVTOL air taxi prototype, demonstrating its faith in the design by taking the unusual step of putting a pilot on board. It's due to enter service in 2025.
The VX4 is a five-seat design with a pilot in the front and four passengers. It runs a total of eight large propellers – two five-blade props along the front edge of each of its large wings, and two scissor-folding four-blade props along the back of each wing. For vertical takeoff and landing, these all point upwards, but the front bank of props is designed to tilt forward and deliver horizontal thrust for efficient wing-borne cruise flight, while the rear props will stop and tuck themselves into a low-drag configuration until they're needed again.
Vertical Aerospace claims an impressive top speed of 202 mph (325 km/h), and a decent range somewhere over 100 miles (161 km), rounding out a set of specs that position this machine as a solid-looking cross-town air taxi capable of doing some light regional duties as well. The market seems to have responded favorably; VA claims it's already taken a whopping 1,400 conditional pre-orders from a range of airlines, tourism groups and other operators. Only about 1,000 helicopters a year are being sold into civil service worldwide, so you can see how aggressively these new, cheaper, quieter electric aircraft are going to start flooding the skies once they're certified and into mass production.
VA took delivery of its prototype airframe from composite specialists at GKN Aerospace back in July, and began assembling and integrating components, including the electric powertrain, which has been developed by Rolls-Royce. With ground tests complete, the company has now moved into the flight test phase with what it believes is the first maiden flight of a new full-scale British aircraft design in more than 20 years.
For the VX4's maiden flight, VA put its Chief Test Pilot Justin Paines in the cockpit. It was a symbolic move; this was a very brief VTOL wheels-up, and the VX4 was tethered to the ground for safety – presumably this is why VA thought it best not to provide any photos or video of what was probably not the most spectacular of events. Still, in order for Paines to take his brief hop, the company had to get regulatory approval from the UK Civil Aviation Authority, and demonstrate it could be done safely.
From here, the company will begin expanding the prototype's flight envelope, starting with hover and low-speed drone-style flight at altitudes under 50 ft (15 m), then eventually moving through the transition to wing-borne horizontal flight and faster speeds, at altitudes between 5-10,000 ft (1,500-3,000 m). We suspect these will be autonomous or remotely piloted tests, and that Paines may have a fair wait before his number is called for a manned flight off the tether straps.
VA plans to have the VX4 certified by 2025, placing it a year or so behind companies like Joby and Beta Technologies, but still among the leaders in the race to commercialize eVTOL air taxis for urban and extra-urban mobility.
Take a closer look at the full-scale VX4 demonstrator in the video below – it sure is a beauty.
Source: Vertical Aerospace